Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Look, I'm tired of pretending.
Everyone wants to win. Ev-ree-won.
Even when you twist a bottle cap off a Coke, you feel that pang of disappointment when confronted with "Drink Coke. Try Again." As if, for that millisecond, nothing is even worth living for. If you can't win a measly can of carbonated beverage, what's the point of this world?

For the next two days, the Jerusalem Post is hosting the voting polls for their annual 2005's Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards (I'm assuming the fact that they aren't using "2006" is in protest for being coerced into using that evil gentile calendar). A few weeks ago, Bring Back Sincerity was nominated for Best Personal Blog. I was touched, I was honored, I was flattered. Nevertheless, I never expected anyone to vote for me lil' ole me. But they did and they did. And they did (yay, you!). Some days passed, and eventually I forgot about the nomination. Maybe I just didn't care that much about it? It's possible, you know.

But then all that changed when I heard the news that I had made it to the second and final round. Whoo-hoo! Self-high-five! What up, Big A? You're stylin.' Collar up? No, collar down. We don't want to look to conceited.

Throughout the next couple days, I started checking the voting results every so often, wondering where I stood. I started strong. Cool. Act cool. Look in the mirror. Fix your hair. That one hair that's out of place. Fix it. It doesn't matter that no one is around. You could be the best Jewish Blog. That's where it's at. You know where it is. Over there. With the other cool people.

I started wondering about my competition. Who were these people that shared my category for Best Personal Blog? I put on my sleuthing hat and sleuthed away. The Internet was a-waiting.

First up, A Whispering Soul. The blogger's name is McAryeh, which is kinda offensive to me because he uses an "H," which is so 1998. McAryeh started his blog about six months ago, which is riding the blog wave a tad late but nevertheless, he's here.
On why he blogs:
"Basically, I had just ended a relationship, and I was struggling with writing my novel. Everyone kept asking me how I was doing. At first, I started the blog as a way to keep friends apprised of what was happening in my day to day."
Ah-ha. One of those.

Next up was because I'm In My Twenties and It's What You Do. Robbie, the blogger, describes his duty as such:
"Reading this I'm sure you'll think that I'm trying to be one of those Klosterman-esque commentators on 'my generation,' as though I'm able to speak for the thousands out there who hold down moderately well-paying jobs and are the owners of their own small businesses in big cities... But as I've pointed out, I'm in my twenties now, and it's my birthright - no, my responsibility - to do so."
Ummm...he lost me at "Klosterman-esque." Which, last I checked, was not something to strive towards. Or a word, for that matter.

All of a sudden, I'm wondering where I fit in with all of this.

Blogger Sarah, also known as Chayyei Sarah describes herself as "an Orthodox Jewish thirty-something is living, playing, writing, and dating in Jerusalem." And then, in the header, Sarah throws in a Torah passage for effect: "And the Lord said unto Abraham: All that Sarah saith unto thee, thou shall do (Genesis 21:12)."
Whoa. Sarah is blogging on behalf of God. In a recent post, she explains...er, rather God does what The Onion is. And according to God, it's "a satirical newspaper." Only God knows this stuff. Legit.

I check the votes again. I'm losing now. Crikey.

Elie's Exposition is a blog by a self-proclaimed "Nice Jewish dad from Jersey."
"Writing about the loss of my 18-year-old son, Aaron, mingled with other insights, opinions, and (most often) random thoughts on a variety of topics, including Judaism/Israel, music, movies/TV, books/comics, language, sports, and life in general."
I'm truly, truly sorry about Elie's lost. It's awful and tragic and horrific. My sympathy and love goes out to him...but his descriptor just feels somewhat cringe-worthy. Does he have to mingle his emotional postings on mourning with thoughts on comics and sports?

I'm still losing and I find myself progressively becoming more competitive and critical (like you couldn't tell...?). I am making fun of other people's blogs. I am belittling them in my head. I find their musings almost offensive in comparison to my equally offensive musings. Like, what I have to say is so important? Am I writing on behalf of God? Nope, Chayyei Sarah is already filling in that niche.

Next up is Frume Sarah who's "name is not Sarah, though I have nothing against the name. It's a beautiful name...in fact, it's my daughter's middle name. "Frume Sarah," besides being a character in "Fiddler on the Roof," is also a moniker bestowed upon me long ago by my dad. It refers to my tendency to stick fairly close to our cultural and religious traditions. In fact, while in Rabbinical school, my 25 page theological statement was entitled "They Don't Call Me Frume Sarah For Nothing."
This is her header subtitle. Needless to say, Sarah, or not-Sarah, is not one for brevity. On Wednesday, January 25th, not-Sarah tell us that "I luv Jewish boys. I think that they are adorable, funny, really cute, sexy, smart, and just plain good solid folk. It's just what I'm used to, I suppose. My dad is a nice Jewish boy. PC is definitely a nice Jewish boy. I have not one but two nice Jewish boys as brothers."
Wait. Is this woman in love with her father and brothers? And the Jerusalem Post is condoning this blog? And get this: not-Sarah is in second place. It's a sad day for people against incest-inclined, 34 year-old fun, hip, Rabbis who loves to bring people closer to God and not named "Sarah." A sad day indeed.

[To be continued; Part II tomorrow]
[Oh, and vote here.]
[Seriously. Vote.]
[I mean it.]

Monday, January 30, 2006


[Note: After reading today's uncharacteristically gushing New York Times piece on the Arctic Monkeys (Arts section), I've decided to post my own (hopefully) more even-handed article before it appears in a magazine this coming March]

There’s a sad, lost-looking teenager standing outside the Mercury Lounge frustratingly dialing numbers on his cell phone, searching in both directions for some familiar members of his party. Having traveled all the way from London, England, this was Andy Nicholson’s first time in New York and he was now alone and abandoned. To a foreigner, the Lower East Side can seem intimidating without the consecutively numbered streets and avenues. After a few seconds of witnessing his anxiety, I approached Nicholson and asked him if he needed help finding his way. “Yes, please,” he said. “It seemed that the rest of my band has left me behind.”

It’s not that Andy’s band roster is so large and is prone to frequently leaving band mates behind. The Arctic Monkeys only have four members and, moreover, they’re all childhood friends. You don’t simply forget a close friend, or “a mate,” in a foreign city, especially when there’s only a quartet to account for. But in their defense, the Yorkshire teens have a great deal on their minds. At the time of our interview, their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That What I’m Not was the most anticipated release in a British decade (weeks later, when it was eventually released, the record went on to sell 118,501 copies on its first day, making it the UK’s bestselling debut). In fact, their hype was so overwhelming and surreal that their publicists and label were both working hard to rein it back in by limiting press and interviews—there’s a difference between a band blowing up and a band on the verge of exploding.

Among the many publications covering the Arctic Monkey phenomena, the British weekly NME has bestowed upon the band the power “to unite a generation,” likening the words of 19-year-old lead singer Alex Turner to those of other great lyricists like the Smiths’ Morrissey and Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker. All throughout their short American tour, you could find countless Craigslist postings regarding the exchange of Arctic Monkeys tickets to their sold-out shows. Some wanted hundreds of dollars, others were looking for favors ("Extra Arctic Monkeys ticket for HOT girl with loose morals!"). Message boards feverishly discussed the as-of-yet unreleased songs and their lyrics (initially transcribed based on assumption) like Talmudic text. And Domino, their label, was banking on them becoming the next Franz Ferdinand. That’s a lot for any band to live up to. Never mind the fact that that they’re just a bunch of kids still living at home with their parents.


Sitting in the basement of the Mercury Lounge for a half-hour of peace in their otherwise chaotic two-day schedule, the four blokes seemed incredibly un-rockstar. Turner seemed, quite frankly, like a typical adolescent uncomfortable in his own skin, constantly fidgeting, muttering most responses under his breath, and doing his best to accommodate yet another interviewer. Their visit to New York had been like a revolving door; the constant barrage of questions stayed the same, but the one asking them changeed. I first apologized for making them sit through yet another discussion. None of them responded with anything that resembleed a “that’s okay,” because I’m sure they all believed that the apology was warranted. Although, I sensed a feeling of relief: finally, they thought, someone gets what we’re going through.

Just over a year ago, Turner, Nicholson (bass), Jamie Cook (rhythm guitar), and Matt Helders (drums, backing vocals) knew nothing of interviews, record labels, publishing royalties, contract negotiations, and publicists. Rather, they were scrappy schoolmates who liked to play music together as an after-school hobby. There was no mission to save rock and roll, do it for the kids, or to unite a generation. They received instruments for Christmas and thought it would be a lark to “write stuff.” And unlike most of the bands that cite older influences as the catalyst for their music, like Joy Division, Interpol, and the Cure, the Arctic Monkeys speak the praises of the Vines, Oasis, and the Streets. In fact, during our interview, when discussion somehow turned to David Bowie (Domino told the band that Bowie would be attending the Monkeys show the next night at the Bowery Ballroom), I asked the band if they're fans of his music.

Turner: Um…I wouldn’t say we’re fans really.

Are you excited that Bowie’s coming tomorrow night?
Turner: Yeah, sure. It seems cool.

Would you be able to name any of his songs?
Cook: What’s the one with that “ch-ch-changes” line? I think it was in an advertisement.

Cook: Yeah, that one.
[Band laughs]

The following night, Bowie did in fact come to the show and sat in the VIP section. Allegedly, it was reported that, when the band eventually brought their families (who had flown into New York) into the venue to find them seating, they asked a stranger to leave the section to make room. Mere moments later, they realized that the man they had kicked out of their section was the Man Who Sold the World. The band then immediately and profusely apologized to David Bowie.


As I stood in the back of the dimly lit Mercury Lounge, I found myself surrounded by five middle-aged balding men. The first American Arctic Monkey audience was a veritable who's-who of corporate men who sit among piles and piles of unsolicited demos sent in by unsigned bands. Needless to say, they didn't shout song requests, they didn't cheer, and they certainly didn't mosh. This did not make for a thrilling live experience. But the band, the nervous, pimple-ridden quartet performed onstage appropriately like teenagers both insecure and defiant. Their nonplussed stage presence somewhat suggested apathy, as if to say, we're the Arctic Monkeys and we're here. You're here. Why not play a few songs?

They 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. Their propulsive lead single “I Bet You Look Good On the Dance Floor” inspired some fists in the air. The chorus repeats “dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984,” which is funny considering that none of them was even alive then, never mind, dancing like robots. Paradoxical to his calm demeanor during our interview, Turner’s stage presence seemed nasty and antagonistic, his in-between song banter rife with curse words and punkish attitude. It seemed to me that this was a young band eager to impress, or trying too hard to look like they weren’t trying too hard.

Hours earlier, 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 all about."

Do you understand why the whole entire United Kingdom is championing your band right now?
Turner: No, we have no idea.

I can’t help but think they you’re all very afraid of hype. Your MySpace page features the quote, “don’t believe the hype.” Your upcoming album is entitled Whatever People Say I Am, That What I’m Not. Why not just ride the wave instead of defying it?
Turner: We didn’t make that MySpace page, by the way. So, we don’t know what that was about. But as far as hype is concerned, this is all so new to us. This has only been going on for a year or so and it’s pretty much out of control. We can’t do anything about it. It’s like a monster just growing on its own.
Cook: I think the people are responding to good music.
Nicholson: At least, we hope so.
Cook: So, as long as it happens for that reason, we should be okay.

All of you honestly can’t figure out why people are reacting in the way they are…
Turner: If people get excited about our live show, well, that’s one thing. That’s something we’re doing. But everything else? That’s not us. That’s like a machine we don’t control.

Soon thereafter, the publicist interrupted our interview to remind the band they were late for dinner. With that, they all politely excused themselves and I thanked them for their time. The Arctic Monkeys headed upstairs to leave the Mercury Lounge, while Nicholson shouted up ahead that he’s first running to the toilet. After a few minutes of loitering outside, the remaining three Monkeys, preoccupied with pre-concert jitters, dashed off to the restaurant. Tonight would be their opportunity to prove themselves worthy of the enormous, imported hype. To justify the storm front of buzz, the Arctic frenzy. They didn’t even notice that they’d left Nicholson behind. Truthfully, this is no time to sweat the details like where you left your bass player.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


If you follow the random and sometimes arbitrary cover choices for Rolling Stone magazine, you’ll notice that aging classic rocker Neil Young graced the cover a couple weeks back. It’s an unusual choice considering classic rock’s past-due expiration date. Every current hot new band skips over the ‘70s influence as if that decade had never existed. Classic rock radio formats have been dying all over the country, including in New York, which practically doesn’t even have a rock station. The word ‘jam’ is a dirty word to hipsters, to be used only by Phish fans, frat boys and their sorority girlfriends. Even Young’s latest Prairie Wind is a mostly acoustic affair. It seems that even he doesn’t want to perpetuate the genre he helped popularize.

Considering all of this, Doug Martsch makes an unlikely hero. Martsch, the indie-rock savant who records under the name Built To Spill is returning in April with his first band effort in five years (his last record, solo album Now You Know, came out in 2002). That’s a long time to simply fade away, but based on the teaser track found on MySpace, it’s long overdue. In fact, the upcoming release You In Reverse may even reinvigorate classic rock.

“Goin’ Against Your Mind” is eight minutes and forty seconds of glorious and propulsive rock. Immediately, the sound of thumping drums introduces the song and soon invites the other instruments to keep up with its pace. Thereafter, a jangly rhythm guitar jogs alongside to welcome the lead guitar, which paradoxically takes its time, gracefully swimming over the rhythmic currents. The bass rolls in and the lead guitar then yelps like a swooping eagle. It’s a beautiful start. It’s pure classic rock through and through.

Nearly two minutes in, Martsch’s distinctive voice, which admittedly sounds much like Young’s (his greatest influence) starts singing ”...we don’t understand/what it takes to want to be a man/I don’t care much for that/I don’t know why.” It’s a defiant refrain. It’s almost as if Martsch is starting the record off with a refusal to conform to what’s expected of him.

And as with most classic rock songs, there is a guitar solo, which deceivingly begins with calm oceanic ambiance. Moments later, dueling guitars burst forth like battling dinosaurs, gnashing and growling, territorial and antagonistic. Quite frankly, it’s moving.

Martsch has always been an anomaly. A guitar hero in a genre that favors those who can’t really play their guitars. An old-fashioned rock fan that seems unaware of post-punk’s heavy influence. He’s a man out of time and his comeback is most welcome. Built to Spill is absolutely rocking in the free world and it’s a better place for it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Look, the only reason I'm writing this preemptively is because I have been witnessing the craziness regarding James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and I don't want the same thing happening to me. No way. No how.

So I'll come out and say it straight. There are some inconsistencies and embellishments in my book and before people start picking it apart, I wanted to come clean about it. First of all, my real name is not God. It's Bill Lerner. I changed it because I just thought God sounded more omniscient than Bill Lerner and I also couldn't imagine people going to their respective churches and synagogues praying to a Bill Lerner. So after a few brainstorming sessions, God it was.

And The Bible...hmmm, not sure how I feel about that title but the marketers loved it. They thought it would sell really well with that name and frankly, they're right. It has sold well. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that my hotel sales manager is a very serious talent. Wowee. That kid has a furious future in sales.

But now I'll get to the scoop behind some of the stories in The Bible:

- Okay, so about this seven days, world thing. Not sure if it was seven days...it may have been something like, seven hundred and thirty years, forty-nine days, six hours and twenty minutes. Give or take a couple of minutes.

- Adam and Eve were technically not from the Garden of Eden. They were from New Jersey, the Garden State. The whole Eden thing played better with the test audience but ultimately, it's not that much of an exaggeration because there are in fact apple trees in New Jersey too.

- The New Testament was all made up. I know. I'm sorry. But after the success of the Old Testament, I had no choice but to provide a sequel. I was somewhat coerced into doing this by my agent and now realize the mistake of fabricating, a "savior," a "christ" or a "son of God." Which, by the way, is ridiculous as far as I'm concerned. I've never been interested in having children. Heck, I love kittens.

- The ten plagues were a bit embellished. The hail, deadly frogs, terminal animal virus, boils, blood, darkness, death of the first borns, locusts, etc. was actually just heavy rain. A lot of rain. Which made the Egyptians also really uncomfortable. Because they were totally wet. Which is almost as bad as boils. Almost.

- This particular event has been a source of much debate over the years. We didn't exactly split the sea. Believe it or not, but the Jews used to be really great swimmers.

- Nothing makes me madder than James and his appropriation of my book. I mean, what's the deal? What stops me from re-writing The Devil Wears Prada and then naming it The Devil Wears Prada - God's Version?

Oh, by the way, I will say it one last time. I don't have a beard. The facial hair makes me all itchy.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Film producer Jerry Bruckheimer

Remember When - Alan Jackson
Here Without You - 3 Doors Down
In da Club - 50 Cent
Disco Inferno - 50 Cent
Karma - Alicia Keys
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
Oh - Ciara featuring Ludacris
Clocks - Coldplay
Bring Me to Life - G-Clef Jazz Trio
Lonely No More - Rob Thomas
Untitled - Simple Plan
Yeah! - Usher featuring Lil' Jon & Ludacris
Just the Way You Are - Billy Joel
Desperado - Eagles
Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2 - Pink Floyd
Desert Rose - Sting
With or Without You - U2
Gangsta's Paradise - Coolio feat. L.V.
Heaven (Simon & Shaker Remix) - DJ Sammy
Lose Yourself - Eminem
I'm Movin' On - Rascal Flatts
Un Bel Di Redux - East Village Opera Company
Caruson - Josh Groban

Oh, Jerry. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry. Or should I call you "Jerome?" I mean, that is your real name--isn't it, Jerome? It's not enough that you've given us CSI, CSI:Miami, CSI:NY, and the soon-to-be-aired CSI:Teaneck, NJ. Okay, kidding about that one.

But Jerry, we're still reeling from Kangaroo Jack. And Coyote Ugly? It's obvious that you are not the arbiter of good taste. And frankly, your iTunes Celebrity Playlist reinforces that assumption.

Starting off with an Alan Jackson song is okay if you're into country but, umm, I'm not. You say that this song is "a statement on the circle of life [PROFOUND! Wait, do you mean the circle of life? Or just the one Elton John sang about in the The Lion King?]. This one is for the closing credits, as we survey and assess events of our past." Closing credits, huh? Which is why you started your playlist with it? Hmmm. Maybe you got confused and overwhelmed when you were assessing events and surveying and stuff.

Your second song (OH MY GOD! THERE ARE TWENTY-THREE OF THESE!), "Here Without You" by 3 (yawn) Doors (yawn) Down (yawn) is "one of the best songs from last year." But actually, Jer, you chose it because of its "great lyrics."
You mean these?
"The miles just keep rollin'
As the people leave their way to say hello
I've heard this life is overrated
But I hope that it gets better as we go."
Does it, Jerry? Does it get better?

Now, this is when you totally throw us for a loop. You pick a few "urban" hits that "make you want to dance." Oh snap. Dance, Jerry, Dance. Get your 'heimer on! Fitty's "In da Club" and "Disco Inferno" coupled side-by-side. And Ciara's "Oh" and Alicia Keys "Karma"? Are you sure you're not black? Like a really light-skinned black?

No, you're not. Because you pick "The Rising" by Bruce Springsteen, which is definitely an "interesting song with special melodies and rhythms." Special? How so? Like in an Olympics kinda way? Because I always thought there was something a little off about Bruce but could never put my finger on it.

Speaking of special, what exactly were you thinking when you picked a selection from a jazz trio's tribute album to Evanessence? "I love this version of the song. The revision of the song is really upbeat, and I love the rhythm and melodies." Ladies and gentlemen. Here is a man who is an immense influence on our nation through his ever-expanding empire of television and movies. Here is a man who has dominated mainstream culture. Here is a man who likes jazz version of crappy rap/metal music.

Now, Billy Joel, Eagles, Pink Floyd, U2...there we go, Jerry. See? This is you not trying so hard to impress the kids. These are your true colors. Doesn't it feel better? This is the music a man who looks like an older version of Seth Green should be listening to. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace your thinly shaved bearded self. It's like Billy said. I like you just the way you are and for the time being, that means we will ignore the fact that you said "for a guy born in Hickville, Long Island, he is pretty hip" about Billy Joel.

Finally, Jerome, something's been bothering me. You have all this mainstream pop music but it's missing something. It's missing the culture. The depth. I don't know, man. It's just bugging me. Like, there needs to be something more substantial than simple radio music. Maybe something like...opera?
OH, MAN! You totes read my mind. "Un Bel Di Redux" by the East Village Opera Company which combines rock and opera. Awesome! High five, Jer! What a brilliant concept! Opera meet rock. Rock meet opera. You two should totally be buds and make music that inspires any sane person to kill for no good reason.
And continuing with this culture theme: Josh Groban, who, by the way, is really Josh Grobenstein. A male Celine Dion is a great way to finish this playlist, Jerry. Nicely done. And when are we getting a sequel to National Treasure, that brilliant film starring the ever-elastic Nicolas Cage because it was one of the best movies in the past thirty years and it raised some very heavy issues like...?
What? You're making it already?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


If you are so inclined, read my informal review of CBS' new one-hour comedy Love Monkey here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


The National

About four years ago, Nick Hornby, the noted author of High Fidelity and About A Boy served as the music columnist for the New Yorker magazine (now, the superior Sasha Frere Jones fills that position more successfully. Just because you’re a good novelist makes you not a good music columnist). In January, 2001, Hornby devoted his column to a review of Radiohead’s Kid A protesting the album’s lack of immediate accessibility. Hornby said, “You have to work at albums like Kid A. You have to sit at home night after night and give yourself over to its paranoid millennial atmosphere as you try to decipher elliptical snatches of lyrics…” Further on, he lamented that Kid A was an album recorded for college students with a lot of time on their hands, not for a man in his actualized adulthood faced with all-consuming concerns and worries. "Kid A demands the patience of the devoted," Hornby continued. "Both patience and devotion become scarcer commodities once you start picking up a paycheck."

Hornby was right, I thought back then. While I did appreciate the challenging heft and selfish complexity of Kid A, I was also a college student, one of the people that he so resented for the excessive time available for listening to records, for reading the linear notes, and for discussing theoretical impressions of the songs with friends.

But now, years later, I understand his heartache because I too am the person Hornby described himself to have been. I, too, have little time to invest in a record—many times, I may even dismiss the music if its too resistant to my ears or demanding of my time. I need an immediate fix. I need to be stimulated. I need gratification (am I so unlike many of you out there?). Unfortunately, this self-involved listening practice allows little room for what’s called a grower. And on the rare occasion, it’s for shame.

But first, a "grower" is a term record store clerks use when recommending an album to an unwitting shopper. It’s a record that releases continuous beauty and hidden treasures with repeated listens. I would be hard-pressed to articulate what exactly qualifies a grower but there’s always something immediately enchanting pulling you in, begging you stick around. Like a relationship that slowly develops, the grower continually gives you incentive to remain faithful. And out of all the records I received this year, none had the impact on me in the way that the National’s Alligator did. And that’s why the Brooklyn band’s third release, a grower in it's own right, is my number one album of 2005.

Alligator is a quintessential American record, a thirteen song masterpiece that captures the raw and unconfined beauty of angst, sadness, and distress. Lead singer Matt Berninger’s expressive baritone usually alternates between understanding and exhaustion, finding the unlikely vocal middle ground of Leonard Cohen and Ian Curtis. But in certain songs, though, like the thumping “Abel” and the victorious “Mr. November,” Berninger employs a growl so furious and unrestrained that it’s quite exhilarating, almost vicariously cathartic (experiencing it live is, in a word, awesome).

And while Berninger and his distinctive voice stand at the forefront of the songs, the exceptional instrumentation of Alligator warmly envelops the listener with glimmering, unpretentious rock. Alligator is drenched in grand majesty, an expertly produced record that allows every distinctive instrument to be heard without ever overwhelming. Its no wonder that rest of the band is made up of two sets of brothers (Bryce and Aaron Dessner, Bryan and Scott Devendorf)—the National’s sound reverberates organically, the intertwining notes sounding as closely connected as brothers sometimes are. The guitars echo and ripple like the calm waters of a pond disturbed by small pebbles. Even the drums hypnotize, stuttering and propelling the songs, providing them with backbone of constant movement. The first song “Secret Meeting” welcomes you with a splash of the high-hat to “the secret meeting in the basement of [Berninger’s] brain.” The album thereafter feels just like that: the disclosure of secret thoughts locked in the confines of the mind. The heartbreaking “Looking For Astronauts” commands us, without remorse, to “take all your reasons and then take them away…From your window/throw away your record collection.” Song after song, the National exemplifies a beautiful poignancy—“Daughter of the Soho Riots” and “The Geese of Beverly Road” are both gently bittersweet and affecting in the same way that a hug from a loved one feels in a time of uncertainty.

Unlike the current custom of the music listener in the downloading age, Alligator must be enjoyed in its entirety. You simply can’t download a song or two and listen to them respective of one another. The cohesive flow of this inevitable classic requires that you inhabit it from beginning to end. In this day and age of constant distraction, I know that that’s a lot to ask for. After all, we’re no longer college students with all the time in the world at our disposal, endless hours left to pontificate the grandeur of music. But if there’s one record in recent memory that begs you to reconsider your attention-deficiency, it’s the National’s Alligator. This is an endlessly rewarding album that, like whiskey, grows more potent with age. I’m sure that even Nick Hornby would have found it worth his time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


The O'Reilly Factor For Kids

[Oh, man. This one is almost too easy.]

From the blurb: "Bill O'Reilly bring[s] you, America's Youth, a code of ethics by which to live. In his latest book, Bill takes to task bullies, cheaters, advertisers who target you irresponsibly...He lays bare the unvarnished truths about sex, money, smoking, drugs, alcohol and friends."

First off, if I were a bully, I would be packing it up as we speak. I would leave this country post-haste for more bully-friendly territories like Canada or Germany. Thank goodness that those countries and others like them also accept cheaters (you know who you are, you cheater you! And by the way, I'm totally telling!). And the advertisers...! How dare you! It's time you used your powers for good. I'm totally with Bill on this one: from now on, all ads should sell vitamins and only things that taste yummy.

And this whole sex, money, smoking, drugs, alcohol and friends fad has got to stop. It's high time Bill took on friends and pointed out how bad they are for you. While many may not know this, you can OD on friends. It's true--I know someone who did. Moreover, you can get lung cancer from friends. And worst of all, you can totally puke when you've had too much friends. Friends are ignored when it comes to the dangers of society and it makes me proud that a great American like Bill O'Reilly has taken friendship on.

Thankfully, later on in his book (you can see sample pages on Amazon), O'Reilly provides us with his winning O'Reilly List of True Friendship Factors [cue army-attacking-esque music sample]:
1. Don't lie.
Strong start, Bill. Strong start. You shouldn't lie. Lying is to the True Friendship Factor what O'Reilly is to credible news reporting. Oooh, zing. Just kidding, Bill. Laughs are so 2006!
2. Be there in bad times.
O'Reilly tells us to be there but hesitates to tell us where 'there' is. So, while his tip may make him a good friend, not telling us where to go pretty much negates that.
3. Be free with compliments.
As opposed to charging for them. Because everyone knows that asking for a dollar after complimenting an outfit is very awkward. O'Reilly saves us from said awkwardness. Keep your dollar. And nice outfit.
4. Notice when something's wrong.
Like, for example, when someone gives their kid a book compiling the advice Bill O'Reilly has for kids. Or like giving a kid a handgun. By the way, good noticing skills, people!
5. Know when to listen.
I'm not familiar with this 'listening.' Bill, help us out here...
6. Know when to intervene.
Like when your kid is reading O'Reilly Factor For Kids. Ha ha. Totally kidding again! Bill, like, man, you're so uptight. Cheeeeeell. Ha ha....buds?
7. Be yourself.
Ummm...if I were you, I'd kinda ignore this one. Might be a good idea.
8. Let your friend be himself.
Bill is totally right. I have this gay Jewish friend that votes Democrat all the time and believes in pro-choice and separation of Church and State. I would have thought this guy was like totally a bad influence but O'Reilly tells me to accept him. Bring him closer...but not like gay-closer. Yay! Thumbs up to tolerance, Bill! Yes! Say it with me: Tah! Low! Rinse! Yes! Awesome!
9. Laugh a lot.
Now, Bill, you know we're all about the laughing. Man, I don't think I ever see you not laughing. But really I kinda wish I were as laid-back as you, Bill. You are so awesomely Sir-Laugh-A-Lot.

Kudos for breaking down the intricate science of friendship. True wisdom is like gold and Bill, we’ve got bling-bling here. This is a revelation for the ages.

But even cooler. Bill totally knows about TV shows. Is he not like that cool teacher you never had? Later on, Bill admits that back in the day he had plenty of friends but "none of them looked like Jennifer Aniston. It would not be hard being her friend." Oh, snap. That is so funny! This book is awesome and full of laughs. They should just change the title and make it The Book of Awesome Laughs or--Oh! I got it--The Bible...or is that one taken already?

Or as one review on the Amazon website says:

"For a TV entertainer that spends most of his airtime belittling his guests, outright lying on his program; then denying such comments even when presented with video evidence, and using the word 'Nazi' more than most WWII veterans ever did, this is not the type of fellow you want to be around, let alone expose to your children."

NO! HE! DIDN'T! Did he just go there? He totally went there. And came back. And then went there again! Bill, do you see what they're saying? Like, this is almost 2010. Man, people totally need to chill out. What a Nazi, right?

Bill O'Reilly Fun Fact #1: Bill O'Reilly actually doesn't like anybody not like him. Wow!
Bill O'Reilly Fun Fact #2: Bill's favorite pastimes are football, yachting, and sexual harrassment. Fun!

Monday, January 09, 2006


I have humbly been asked to be a guest blogger on the Big Takeover website. My weekly column is entitled "Listen Without Prejudice."

Thank you for reading. I appreciate it...er, sincerely.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Sufjan Stevens

After meeting Sufjan Stevens more than a few times, I can tell you that his sincere modesty is antithetical to his grand vision. He is an uncompromising artist who at times creates haunting beauty while at others produces bombastic thrills. Michigan, his first record in his proprosed 50 States project, and the acoustic-leaning Seven Swans are evocative trips into suburbia, capturing an unbiased snapshot of America. His honey-glazed voice is the perfect accompaniment for his tales of desperation, longing, honesty and life. Stevens is an orchestral Michael Moore, a documentarian with a penchant for the flugelhorn.

For his fifth and latest album, Illinois, Sufjan pushed his creativity even further and created an inarguably potent masterpiece in the process. Each song—there are 22 of them—tells a distinctive story of a character confronting his or her personal conflicts and questioning whether there is a larger, encouraging answer to this metaphysical journey we call “life.” One song (“Casimir Pulaski Day”) is about cancer and prayer. Another (“John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”) is about a mass murderer and the average person’s ability to relate to one. And a third (“The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”) is either about Superman, the mortality of man or Jesus—the intention is confusing.

Stevens seamlessly straddles the line of literal and metaphorical and refuses to articulate further. Moreover, Stevens, an exemplary and prolific musician, is a successful narrator—an anomaly in a world of unsubstantial lyrical content and sometimes-random word associations. He is like a great author of postmodern literature with an awareness of mortality, religion and technology that positions him akin to a devout version of novelist Don DeLillo.

Potent lyrics aside, Illinois is a wondrous album, full of Broadway-production gospel, festive instrumentation and orchestra-folk that pierces and penetrates like the surreal bittersweet moments when you realize that all will be OK and also not OK at the very same time. While this album’s 79 minutes may seem long, the record is sensational throughout, a sublime effort that never falters. Stevens’ tender voice is both soothing and seductive. Musically, Stevens could be criticized as being out of sync with his generation, if only he hadn’t captured the essence of our country today, when God is both everywhere and nowhere.

[Revised from a previous post]

Thursday, January 05, 2006


The Ark
State Of The Ark

It’s not often when every heterosexual male at a rock show feels their sexuality somewhat threatened, but tonight, in the Mercury Lounge, the Ark has succeeded in inspiring just that. Lead singer and proverbially charismatic Ola Salo is strutting on stage wearing leather chaps, a matching leather cap and no top, teasing a white feather boa wrapped multiple times around his neck. Soon thereafter, he beckons a hulking black man to approach the stage and then proceeds to climb on his shoulders and ride him, Salo’s brown frosted hair bobbing about like a woman ridding a mechanical bull. This is when I see some of the men in the audience subconsciously putting their arms around their respective girlfriends. Tightly.

The flamboyant antics of the Ark, heavily influenced by 70’s glam rock and the movie This Is Spinal Tap, is a sight to behold, a lurid rock feast for the absurd-inclined. Guitarists Martin Axen, who, uncannily, looks like Spinal Tap’s Michael McKean and Jepson (just Jepson) both play their dramatic guitar solos synchronized with choreographed poses. The whole band, with the exception of Salo, wears matching military uniforms seemingly designed by a dominatrix tailor. The Ark embraces their outrageous campiness--listening to the Swedish collective back catalogue is an intellectual man’s anti-soundtrack. Essentially, they put the “cum” in “feel the noize.” Their three albums, We Are the Ark, In Lust We Trust, and State of the Ark, a trilogy that completes the self-proclaimed “Arkist Lust Manifesto,” all blend together the bombast of Queen, the euphoric highs of Sweet and Cheap Trick, with the liberating sexuality of Roxy Music and early Bowie. If it all sounds disgustingly ironic to you, it truly isn’t. “We were sick and tired of everything that was supposed to be hip, cool, and ironic,” Salo was once quoted to say. “And that’s why we built the Ark as this big uncool, un-hip thing.” Well, if the Ark is uncool, then don’t call me Miles Davis.

Their newest and best record State of the Ark is currently only available via import. While there was heavy domestic awareness in America, all interested labels eventually passed even after courting the band for quite some time. Incredulously, one industry insider alluded to the Ark’s high gay factor as a deterrent to signing the band. “Yes, it’s 2005,” said the source. “But we need to consider the current political climate in the United States. Right now, this is a Republican country and you know. Republicans don’t buy overtly gay records.” [Look up the lyrics for the Ark’s hit song “Father of a Son” and imagine a conservative American singing along to it.] While it’s difficult to accept in our forward-thinking society that there’s a band too alternative for the mainstream, ultimately, the Ark is also too mainstream for the alternative. The State of the Ark sounds so slickly produced and unrepentantly pompous that it would also feel awkward and out-of-place distributed on an indie label. Sadly, “Clamour For Glamour,” “One of Us Is Gonna Die Young,” and “This Piece of Poetry Is Meant To Do Harm” are all hits-that-will-never-be and the Ark will definitively never be a local rock sensation. And when I meet the Ark in their publicist’s office for our interview, nothing bothers the Swedes more. American apathy is their greatest enemy and they’re determined to conquer it. But despite all the obstacles along the way, the Ark floats on, flamboyantly and winningly, threatening male heterosexuality worldwide.

Bloc Party
Silent Alarm

A few months ago, Rolling Stone Magazine interviewed Dave Allen, the bassist for the aging, revered Gang of Four about the bands they've allegedly influenced:

What do you think of new bands, like the Futureheads and Bloc Party, and their connection to your sound?

I think "respect." If writers want to say these bands are good -- and they're great -- but they're borrowing from Gang of Four, I mean, that's cool. I suppose I'm a little pissed that some of these bands are just borrowing freely from us.

Bloc Party, a South London foursome that successfully straddled the tightwire-thin line of hype and cred, has more often than not been associated as protégés of Gang of Four. This frustrating comparison has perplexed me ever since their debut Silent Alarm was released because unlike that self-important, post-punk Foursome, Bloc Party frankly sounds like a pop band.

Well, not a pop band in the classic bubblegum sense but rather, Silent Alarm proves that Bloc Party is primarily concerned with tunes (again, unlike Gang of Four). Their winning debut is rife with unpretentious hooks ("Little Thoughts"), euphoric dance sing-alongs ("Banquet") and sweet, sappy romantic sentiment ("This Modern Love"). Those are three descriptors you would never associate with typical protest-y, post-punk. And who cares as to whether the lyrics are political or not? Kele Okereke's winningly crude and distinctly English vocals remind me of Damon Albarn's charming yelp heard on early Blur records. They're aching and earnest, almost emo in their overwrought delivery (imagine My Chemical Romance singing “Like Eating Glass”). [And even more interesting: when was the last time the British press celebrated a black lead singer of a rock band? In the sixties? With Kele and TV on the Radio's Tundae Adibempe, we no longer have the image of Living Color's Corey Glover etched permanently in our heads.]

Perhaps I'm wrongfully using this entry as an opportunity to also express my dislike for the Gang of Four catalogue (their records have inspired for me nothing but migraines) especially when the merit of Silent Alarm warrants our sole attention to Bloc Party for developing a sound all their own. Moreover, it wouldn't be very controversial to say that Gang of Four are past their peak of relevance, attempting to recapture an idea nearly thirty years after top potency. Sadly, I saw GoF on their reunion tour and walked out in the middle. The reinterpretations of their "angular" songs further reinforced my disinterest in the records.

Ironically, a few months back, Okereke was interviewed by The Guardian, a United Kingdon newspaper and when asked about the Gang of Four comparison, he said, "We're forever compared to Gang of Four. We'd never heard them until people started mentioning it." Perhaps then, this isn't another case of student becoming the teacher, as Allen presumes it to be. It would seem that rather it's the student that never even showed up to class.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006



Of all the records in my top ten list, M.I.A.'s Arular has been written about the most. In fact, even I have already covered the Sri Lankan/English ingénue. And in risk of being self-referential, you can read my review and interview here.

Set Yourself On Fire

Even the title of the record sounds dramatic. Set yourself on fire is perhaps a line that the poetic would use on a lover or a significant other after they've done something horribly disappointing. But I would expect nothing less from Stars, the Canadian quartet that makes the Smiths sound comedic in comparison. Just about every song on Stars' third album seeps with unrestrained romanticism, lyrics that read like novellas set to an electronic pop soundtrack. In the song "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" (Set Yourself... rarely employs upbeat optimism), the narrator eloquently recounts the awkwardness of being "introduced" to an ex by a friend of friend ("God that was strange to see you again...Smiled and said 'yes I think we've met before'")and features one of the best zingers found in recent pop history ("We drove in silence across Point Champlain/And all of the time you thought I was sad/I was trying to remember your name…"). The song eventually ends with "I'm not sorry I met you/I'm not sorry it's over" but somehow you don't believe him.

Lead singer duties are split between the Torque Campbell and Amy Millan, who not only sing the songs but bring their lyrics to vibrant life by conveying seeminlgy authentic emotions just as great fiction writers do. Their soft, breathy voices perfectly complement one another, neither dominating nor upstaging the other's. But that's not to say that they can't properly convey rage or passion; In their most defiant song "He Lied About Death," which is an obvious assault of President Bush, Torq snarls "What gives you the right/ To f*** with our lives...I hope your drunken daughters are gay!" Spoken like a true liberal Canadian. A dramatic one, at that.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Sometimes you just need to look at something cute.