Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If the playoffs started today...TMaK edition

Yes Vince's cousin gets a lot of abuse from Spike and myself. I'm not totally sure that there is any specific reason other than he embodies everything that is wrong with certain parts of the NBA. Selfish yet offensively gifted, heavily marketed for some reason, helps his team get better but only to a certain point (i.e. to the playoffs but not past the first round) and has a ludicrous contract that handicaps the team from actually adding great supporting players. So if the playoffs started today...

TeeMAK might actually help his team past the first round
By totally screwing his team over right before the trade deadline and choosing to have his microfracture surgery, many were rightfully disgusted. However, a month and more later those same folks are talking about how much better the Rockets are without him. They even traded away their starting point guard and continue to win.
I am going to go out on a limb, despite T-maK's history, and say that this is the best shot he has ever had at helping his team get past the first round of the playoffs. All this is courtesy of him being more selfish than he has ever been. And all this without him playing a single minute of postseason ball. No we won't get 8 points in 30 seconds, pull up 30 footers or 6-32 shooting performances. But we just might get a 5th or 6th postseason game in Houston.
Hakeem isn't walking through that door, neither is Mario Elie, Kenny the Jet, Baby Bigshot Bob and neither is Teemaq. And that is a good thing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If the playoffs started today...Vol VI

I am excited for the NBA Playoffs and I am sure you will be too just as soon as all your Final Four teams get knocked out between today and tomorrow. Be prepared to hear chalk a lot over the next couple days...I mean a lot. So now that I've got you thinking brackets, here are some potential first round matchups, as always, if the playoffs started today.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Being Believed In
The Hawks have little to gain or lose at this point. The 4th seed is theirs. Miami is knocking on the door and they are mathematically eliminated from the 3rd spot. The Hawks have something they didn't have last year; homecourt in the first round. With that comes something else they didn't have; people believing in them. Do we have a case of the Warriors of years past where after taking the top seed to the limit, the next years are a bit disappointing because now they have loyal fans filled with local celebrities who don't care about the team but only want those camera shots coming in and out of commercial. (Did anyone count a few weeks back how many times they showed Bill Murray and Spike Lee during the Cleveland game? It was more than LeBron and that is saying something) So, with little to play for for the next 10 games, will the Hawks stay sharp? Will the Phillips Arena faithful be full of TI, Luda, Whitney and Bobby, Teddy Turner and the CNNers or will all those starving professionals dip into their rebounding portfolios for a game or two? Can they hold court as well as they did last year?

Boston Celtics vs. the rehab wing at Mass General
The list of injured Celtics (or not quite right yet post-injury) is better on paper than the list of healthy Celtics. And if it wasn't for The Truth, the injured C's might even beat the healthy C's. Rivers has already started the excuse bus in several interviews citing they "just need to get healthy" or "we need some time to get right". Sure he is right about the team being banged up. But is that what its all about or is their a little of prophecy being fulfilled?
We are starting to wonder if Mikki will get a chance to bully Pau in the paint like his forbearer, The Notorious P.J.B., and how well Teambury can chest bump at Staples.

Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets
They are still scheduled for their annual first round match up. There is still time to dust off the ol' highlights and reminisce before 7 games of Rockets with TEEMak vs Rockets without TMaq graphics. But just to be fair there might also be a couple Jazz with Boozer vs Boozer high-fiving in an Armani.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

If the playoffs started today...Vol V

First of all, if the playoffs started today nobody would notice because they are all to busy filling out sweet 16 brackets, debating whether or not UConn is as good as they have played or how far Blake Griffin will carry Oklahoma. And they are also over using the word chalk.

The Dwyane Wade Stimulus Package vs. 4 centers, 3 midseason pick-ups, 2 rookies and a brand new coach
Wade has been the leading scorer for the Heat in 61 of 70 games. They are 36-25 in those games. 2-7 in games where anybody else steps up. He averages more than twice as many points as the next player (O'Neal) on the roster. He is obviously leading the team in minutes per game, assists, steals and is second in blocks. The Heat haven't had a losing streak longer than 3 games. Thats something neither Boston, Utah, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, New Orleans, nor Dallas can say. (those are of the current playoff teams. 8th seed in the East doesn't count.)
That said, its easy to see that the Stimulus Package is working, but thats about all thats working, and who knows for how long.
As Heat blogger Ira Winderman said "When Dwyane Wade looks at the rest of this roster, what is compelling enough to make him say, "This is a place where I want to stay"?"

Utah Jazz vs Houston Rockets
This is the inevitable first round match up (see the last two years) and they are also playing tonight. So if the Playoffs started today the Jazz would be playing the Rockets.

Jordan's manliness vs his softer side when watching his babies
Yes he shed a tear when his son won the state championship. But did he cry when the older brother lost in the first round to Wisconsin? And will he cry when the team he generally manages actually does something of note? (i.e. make the playoffs) Or do the tears only come with being the last team unbeaten?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shame On Me: Vol I or Let's See How Far We've Come

Shame On Me, the newest recurring topic on The Black Converse, aims to get to the root of two core TBC beliefs: 1) It's the song that matters, meaning a good song is a good song, no matter who sings, wrote, likes, blogs about it, slogs it, is in its video; 2) Everyone is allowed some guilty (in this case: frowned upon by indie rock blogoscenti) pleasures that- when no one else is in the car (and, in brazen moments, when the car's full)- you don't change the station, maybe even sing along. Kind of like rooting for Kobe in the Olympics.

We'll explore what, for us, those songs/players are and why a) we like them and b) we know we shouldn't.

Matchbox 20- How Far We've Come

- It's 3 AM, they must be sucky.
Their list of crimes against humanity (not to mention charges of being The Poor Man's Counting Crows, Wussier Edwin McCain, and The Guy Who Wrote That Crappy Santana Comeback song) is endless.
Besides this song, I can't think of another Matchbox 20 song I'd go near with 15 terrible Santana PRS guitars.

- Two words: Rob Thomas.
His solo record is so terribly tailored for dumb, saccharine radio, for taking us in and out of commercials on Entertainment Tonight, for pleasing at least 72% of all focus groups in selected target demographics.
People should stop insulting Adam Duritz by comparing him to this dude. Say what you will about the last handful of Counting Crows albums, but there's no way in hell Duritz would sell out to the popcrapstic degree that Mr. Thomas did. Every note feels like an autotuned clone from the same Photoshop lab that brought us Fergie and Nick Lachey. It's like watching (arguably) good-looking people do math.

- Rob Didn't Start The Fire.

I googled "How Far We've Come" and read about the video, which is apparently one of those big Billy Joel Didn't Start The Fire-ish laundry lists of shots that are culturally relevant and compelling. For example, just the bookends: the civil rights movement -> Obama. Ugh. I shed a tear on election day and still I will not watch it, Sam I Am. You can almost see the guys inputting the formula for most licensing opportunities...did I mention this seems like mathematic songwriting? I've heard Rivers Cuomo has an actual equation.

-"Exile On Mainstream?"

Really, guys? 9 out of 10 gynecologists recommend your music and you're gonna try to throw a Stones reference in there? Yeah, I get that you're playing the "We Don't Get Props Because We Write Hits" martyr card. But come on. Wasn't there a Lionel Richie album you could borrow from? PS: Liz Phair did it before and better than you with Exile On Guyville.

- The B-Sides.

Supposedly, the single features the band doing their version of the Black Crowes' "Remedy" and Bowie's "Modern Love." I will pass, thank you.
No, really, thank you.

- The Lyrics.
Leonard Cohen it's not. Try it on for size and see its anthemic generalities and vague desperation/dissatisfaction almost move you. Almost.


Maybe this is a bad way to categorize, because, man, I just like it. I do. I listen to it EVERY TIME IT COMES ON. Stereogum is welcome to come on over here and revoke any indie credentials I may have once had. (But first they'll have to stop pretending that Billy Corgan news is relevant. Those are my conditions.)

- Two more words: Rob Thomas.
I read an interview once, that unfortunately I couldn't dig up online, where
Mr. Thomas talked about how bummed out it made him when he realized that Matchbox 20 was the band every other band liked to crap on. He gets some points for being self-aware enough to see and acknowledge that. And even more points when he followed it up by saying, "I guess Creed is my Matchbox 20." (For all of you thinking, "No way, Spike. I can't name a worse band than Matchbox 20," I believe Rob has done the research for you.) For all the flogging every other band and I give them, Mr. Thomas knows hooks. And this song's got hooks like Kareem.

- America's Newest Hitmakers.
Speaking of hooks, in the Why I Shouldn't section above, I railed against how Mr. Thomas' solo record was Exhibit A in writing for radio, writing for media placement, riding trend waves, etc. This song is no different. If you ask me, Matchbox 20 sat down and said, "We should write a song like The Killers with some Arcade Fire," except for mainstream radio. (Not that the Killers will ever have to bear the albatross of being indie, but I don't think I have to do a dissertation on the stratification of mainstream) Anthemic, manic, driving, fist-pumping shouty choruses, etc. U2 has been mining the youth movements for a few albums now. Why can't the Matchboxes? Even the normally grating delivery of Mr. Thomas (our whipping boy, or Scott Stapp, if you will) is more than appropriate.

- The lyrics + the melody.
Crap. I cannot condone this brand of Vaguely Anthemic 101 at Coldplay University lyrics. But I'll be darned if they don't con me into singing along everytime it gets to: "if you got someone you can SAY GOOD BYE TO..." Good writers marry the lyrics to the melody and this song does that really well, even if the words on paper read like a Clippers media guide.

- The bridge. I should hate everything about it, but somehow I kind of dig the way Mr. Thomas delivers the bridge in that weird, i don't know, is he brooding voice? It should bug me, right? And there I am, halfway hoping it doesn't end. And the guitars are good. And you know exactly where it's going. But you go there anyway.

- The horn part on If You're Gone. I know it's not even this song. But it's kind of money and I felt like, while I was confessing, I might as well lay it on the priest.


I don't have anything witty to say. No unique angle. No breaking news.

Just the fact that, in the 20 games since TeeMak finally bowed out, "his" Rockets are 16-4 and playing for second in the west.

What is the protocol for Trading Away A QUOTE/UNQUOTE Franchise Player As Quickly As Humanly Possible Without Letting Other Teams Know Just How Badly You Want To Ship Him Off? Not that the rest of the NBA can't see it. But teams like the Grizzlies and Clippers are more concerned with selling tickets than they are with, say, getting a team to the playoffs, much less into the second round.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

If the playoffs started today...Vol IV

As the playoffs seeding and positioning begins to tighten, we think about all the possible scenarios of the teams that will make the playoffs. But there are a lot of good things to come out of certain teams not making the playoffs. Here is a quick rundown of the goodness that would come to you...If the playoffs started today.

Baron and Steve
Nevermind the overplayed Vitamin Water Steve Nash. Forget about the dunk over Kirilenko and the decibel meters up in Oakland. Davis and Nash together, not playing basketball, can be nearly as fun.

D'Antoni and Walsh
If LeBron wins the title in Cleveland this year, and/or next year, you have to wonder if he will still want to go play with...looking for a Knicks player who is under contract past next season...looking...looking...okay I know there are a couple but it doesn't really matter. They are all scrubs including KryptoNate. So it looks like if he goes off to NYC and MSG he will be playing with...wait for it...Himself. So I wonder if Mike and Donny are going to be having playoff viewing parties in that penthouse apartment on 5th Avenue that the team bought and outfitted for LeBron. (kinda like when parents get the room all put together before the baby is born) And I wonder what the looks on their faces will be like when he is going for 50 9 9 a game in the playoffs. Absolute Joy or Absolute Fear? I bet they'll be rooting for Mo to miss open jumpers and Varejao to turn back into Sideshow Bob.

The Real Shaq
Which sidekick will The Real Shaq be rooting for via his Twitter feed? His new best buddie, Kobe? (who has a chance to equal him in titles) His old best buddie, Dwyane? (who has no real reason to get any love from the Big Fella) His on court best buddie, Nash? (to not abandon him on the Suns and ruin the last season of his career) His almost best buddie, LeBron? (who he almost teamed up with at the deadline and has a chance to keep Timmy Duncan from passing him in career titles) His illegitimate son, Dwight? (to do in Orlando what he could never do...win a title. That would mean he would be backhandedly rooting for Van Gundy so thats out)
My guess is he will only be trying to put the attention on himself by dissing all these guys in freestyle rap videos or talking about being 5th all time on the scoring list in heartfelt, halftime interviews.

Friday, March 20, 2009

If the playoffs started today...Vol. III

Yes its getting to be that time of the year. The time when nobody pays attention to the NBA for a couple weekends and things start to change. So in order to help you not feel left out when you pick back up with the Association, here are some of the current match-ups if the playoffs started today.

Orlando Magic vs. we are so scared to draw Detroit in the first round that we might have to tank a few games to stay at the 3 seed but will probably get beaten by Philly anyway

Its no secret that the Magic have laid a big ol' goose egg against Detroit this year. Considering the teams fragile psyche and relative inexperience, Detroit is the last team they want to match up with. So while Sacramento, Washington and Memphis are intentionally losing games for a chance at Blake "I got body slammed" Griffen, look for Orlando to be dropping some to stay at the third seed only to have Detroit jump up to the 6th spot in the last week.

Cleveland LeBron's vs. Me being able to be critical of Mr. James

Its also no secret that there is a lack of butt kissing for LeBron here at the Black Converse as opposed to the rest of the televisioned world. But I am finding it harder and harder to find the holes in anything he does lately. In March, thus far, he is averaging 30 pts. 9 assists 9 rebounds nearly 2 steals and shooting 48%. Plus his team has only lost to Boston this month. So keep playing hard in the regular season boys. I'm sure you'll give me plenty of chances in the playoffs to be critical.

San Antonio vs. the switch
While the Spurs are rotating everyone in and out of the injured list to rest up their weary bones, it is getting closer and closer to the time when they need to flip the switch. Good thing it doesn't look like they will lose the 2nd seed.

D-League Playoff Format vs. BCS vs. Eastern Conference
No doubt will we here Shaq make some comment about his team having a better record than 2 or 3 Eastern Conference teams who make the playoffs. Then we will get some reseeding suggestions. Then one of those lower seeds in the East (Detroit/Philly) will knock off one of those higher seeds (Orlando) and Stern will be smiling bigger than the commissioner of the Big East.
Amongst all this, nobody will mention the new D-League format where the top 8 teams make it and starting with the team with the best record, they pick their opponents. Talk about giving the underdog motivation. Imagine Orlando (the easiest to pick on today) having to choose between Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia and Detroit for their first round match-up. I bet at that point Van Gundy would rather "spend more time with his family" and Howard would rather be playing PlayStation with Sir Charles.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

When Can I Trust Kobe?

ESPN's Streak For Cash has taken hold of us here at The Black Converse. If you haven't done it don't start unless you are prepared to become addicted.

Sometimes the propositions seem obvious, but sometimes the sure bets are anything but that. Exhibit 1: Kobe Bryant. Both Spike and myself have put our streak on the shoulders of Mr. Bryant only to be completely and utterly let down. I have been the victim thrice, Spike twice and in discussing yesterday's choices this conversation came up.

If you can't trust Kobe on a Streak For Cash pick, when can you trust him? And more importantly, when would you want to trust him? (the latter is probably how most real sports fans feel due to Kobe's loathsome persona)

Spike: I root for Kobe in precious few moments:
- the Olympics
- maybe against LeBron
- just to piss you off against the Heat
- if he is the only chance a loved one has of living
- against isiah thomas

Charlie T.: Those are understandable moments. I root for Kobe when:
- He has 40+ at halftime and I want to see if he will gun the whole second half
- he is playing the Nuggets, Rockets, Cavs, Knicks, Mavs, Magic, and any other team that is above the Heat in the standings
- He is on the Olympic team

Spike: - I'm playing my nephew in NBA 2003 and he's the Spurs and I'm the Lakers
- I've invented a time machine and i'm back in his early years and he airballs those shots at the Delta Center. I want him to make maybe one of them, just so he'll take it a little less shoulderchipped on the future Jazz.
- his wife makes her next threat to leave him (in a poorly veiled effort to get more bling) and he lets the digger go
- the next generation of hip hop superduper hoop studs comes along and want to upend the old guard. I want him to stomp them down like the little ponies they are.
- when he tries to remake the car-jumping clip in 5 years when his legs lose their spring. i hope he still makes it. or just jumps over a mini cooper.
- when China takes over and the only way they will let the U.S. maintain some degree of sovreignty is if Kobe/Kurt Rambis can defeat Yao/Yi

Charlie T.: - when he is rapping with Tyra Banks...because I want him to rap better than her so she becomes the butt of the jokes and gets her due.
- ANYTIME the countries safety/sovereignity is on the line. (for some reason he is someone you feel like you can lean on with all your weight and he'll deliver) (unless it is the NBA Finals...then you don't want anything resting on him)

Spike: - when they play the first game in space and Sasha Vujacic is about to get the first in-space dunk. I will root for him to SWAT HIS OWN TEAM so the Russians can't win.

Charlie T.: - ANYTIME there is an opportunity to bitchslap Vujacic.
- when he has the chance to make Luke Walton cry during a timeout.

Spike: - when he's diving for a loose ball out of bounds and can nail Ashton Kutcher in the manparts if he'll just lift his knee THIS much...
- when the outcome of whatever he's doing will cause outrage within Mark Cuban.

As you can see, we don't hate Kobe. We root for him. We want him to do well...sometimes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Re: Mixtape, Pt. II

(Part II of II, a review of a Charlie T-to-Spike mixtape)

TRACK 12: Willow Tree- Chad Van Gaalen
You can blame my ears. Clearly they aren't attuned enough, indie enough to love the school of New Warblers on first warble. Yet I've always felt like it's unfair when folks allow a "challenging" voice to automatically disqualify its song. I will come back to you, Chad. Just like I did for Dylan, Neil, Waits, Cohen, Prine, Chesnutt. Those guys not only got me past the "Voice Barrier," but actually converted me to loving their voices. Do you fit in that club, buddy? Well, do you?

TRACK 13: Silver Stallions- Cat Power
I know I'm supposed to worship Chan Marshall. I own three of her records and really like maybe a song or two off of each (The Greatest is, well, the greatest). I've seen her live three times (because I was late on the bandwagon, I never got to see Early Meltdown Chan, though bad sound at last year's Bridge School looked like it might trigger a relapse) and none of the performances slayed me like I hoped they would. I realize, full well, that this is my problem and not Chan's. I'm missing something. Of course I am. But I can't pretend there's something there any more than the Clippers can pretend they're gonna make a playoff run. Maybe someday. But not today.

But, wait. Hold on. I love this song. Love it. Did she write it? Just on first impression, I don't think she did. (UPDATE: It's a Highwaymen song. Thanks, Google.) It's no wonder Cat Power has done a couple of All Covers records.

SPIKE RULE: If you can get the listener to finally give in to an artist they've resisted, you might very well get a medal. You'll have to make it yourself, but don't let anybody tell you don't deserve it.

TRACK 14: Golden Hearts- Conrad Ford
I thought this was Eels before I got the tracklisting. It also feels a little like a less experimental Sparklehorse. (Yes. There was no artwork. Artwork isn't a SPIKE RULE for me, but it'll buy you a heaping Shaq-helping of extra credit.)

TRACK 15: Islands In The Sun (cover)- Feist & The Constantines
SPIKE RULE: Include a good cover, when it fits.
I don't love this cover. Maybe it's because I'm not all that fond of the Kenny/Dolly original (though I have a soft spot for the Bulworth soundtrack's revision. I know: Mya, Pras? What could possibly go bad there? Does it say something terrible about me that I prefer Mya/Pras to Feist/Constantines? Tough. Ghetto superstar/that is what you are.)
SPIKE RULE: Go back. Find the roots. Give the album some context. All good mixtapes need some history. It can be as obvious as the Beatles, as recent as the 90s, as kitschy as 70s country, as obscure as late 60s Brazilian psychedelia, just do it. I suppose you could break this if it's a pure New Music Mixtape. But who wants one of those?
Covers don't count. Unless they're old covers of old songs.

TRACK 16: Monster Ballads (demo)- Josh Ritter
A different version of a familiar song. Always a good mixtape trick. This one is an especially good choice since it might trump the album version. I am a sucker for songs stripped down to their essence like this.

TRACK 17: Ghosts- Laura Marling
A good build. When the drums first come in, I'm onboard. Same with the strings. Still, for some reason, I can't say this song ever asks me to come back for tea. But I don't skip it, which a real mixtape afficionado should never do anyway, because- by nature- TAPES MADE IT A TOTAL PAIN TO EVEN FAST FORWARD (before the fancyboy song-by-song fast forwarders).
SPIKE RULE: (more of a listener than a creator rule) Don't skip tracks. The songs are there for a reason. Give them the time they deserve, a MINIMUM of 4 listens.
I credit tapes with helping me appreciate the entirety of albums like Grant Lee Buffalo's Mighty Joe Moon and Freedy Johnston's This Perfect World (among others) in ways that I wouldn't have if I'd had CDs.

UPDATE: I was previously saddling this song with the "Good But Unmemorable" tag. Then, last night, as I was brushing my teeth, the melody came to me. You win, Laura Marling.

TRACKS 18 & 19: Wisconsin/For Emma (myspace transmission)- Bon Iver
SPIKE RULE: Set up the finish with your penultimate track. That means, if it's quiet, you might want to go loud. Or if it's a big bang, ramp up to it. You just need to do SOMETHING that gives the last song its proper Last Song Gravity. This rule is breakable on punk compilations, which should be decidedly noncomformist. Whatever that means.
Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago was my favorite album last year. So this was a no-brainer. I already had the Myspace Transmissions sessions, which are really really good and a pleasant departure from the album arrangements. Charlie T does an interesting thing in pairing songs by the same artist in Twofers. I don't have a rule against it (though I don't do it), but I am curious as to the motivation behind it. Were you raised on classic rock Two-For-Tuesdays, Charlie T? Are you the guy that will get suckered into buying the 2-pack of Dran-O, even though you'll maybe use it twice a year? Growing up, was your favorite show My Two Dads? Were you, like Dwight Schrute, supposed to be a twin, except you resorbed the other fetus and now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby? What is it about twos, man?

TRACK 2o: Long May You Run (Neil Young cover)- Josh Ritter & Sarah Harmer
SPIKE RULE: Close strong. No matter what.
SPIKE RULE: Include a good cover, when it fits.

Done and done. Love Neil Young. Love Josh Ritter. Love Sarah Harmer, one of the underrated voices and writers of the last decade or so. Her vocals on Great Lake Swimmers' I Became Awake kill me every single time. So does her song Coffee Stain. And so does her duet cover of Long May You Run.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Re: Mixtape, Pt. I

In High Fidelity, we get this bit of Hornbian wisdom:
"...Making a tape is like writing a letter. There's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and...oh, there are loads of rules."
In an unveiled stab at coverting me to the Church of Our Lord of Loops, Polysyllabicism, & Birds Named Andy, Charlie T. gave me a mixtape. Actually a "mix CD" but that just doesn't sound right. To aged brontosauri like myself, they'll always be mixtapes. You could embed digital media on playable piece of salami and I'd still call it a mixtape.

Making/receiving a mixtape is tricky business. Clearly, the simplest transaction is between two love interests- the goal of which is to either a) help the person fall in love with you, b) create a soundtrack to your relationship, c) introduce them to good music while giving them a little something to read between the lines that you may or may not be ready to come out and say just yet, d) narrow down that ever elusive "Our Song," or e) all of the above. That I'm aware of, Charlie T is not making passes at me, so we can eliminate that right off the bat.

Once you're past the sweet simplicity of a love-based mixtape, your options are endless. Are you just trying to get somebody into the music you like? Do you even know what they like? Does it matter? Is your idea of how to sequence a mixtape anywhere near theirs? Do you believe in mixtape rules? Does it have a theme? Does it have to have a theme? Is artwork necessary? Do you try to maximize the space on the cd? Or are you disciplined enough to believe in the power of "6 Songs That Fit Together Perfectly? This line of questioning could go on for days. But I think my drift is caught. Charlie T made me a (in full disclosure, this is the second and better) mixtape. Like I said earlier, part of it was Andrew Bird Proselytization. Listening was rewarding and an interesting study in what different (but, I think we would both admit, pretty similar) people look for in a mixtape.

It's also a bit of a tricky task reviewing a mixtape because you readers- unless your tastes align perfectly with Charlie T's- don't have all the songs. And we're not yet up to posting zip files and the like. Go find them on iTunes or eMusic. Oh well. Let's dive in. Here's my review/reaction/whatever.

TRACK 1: Knotty Pine- David Byrne & Dirty Projectors

At 1st listen, I wasn't really feeling this song. But 2nd and 3rd and 8th listens have endeared it to me. Byrne + Projectors could not = anything but quirky. The quirk delivers. An interesting choice for the all-crucial, pacesetter of Track 1.
SPIKE RULE: Kick it off with a song that the recipient isn't familiar with but you are almost entirely sure they'll want to come back to.
Ask Hornby: you gotta kick it off with a killer. This song wasn't a no-brainer for me, but then maybe Charlie T is working on a different set of hipster rules that my low indie pay grade doesn't give me access to. If it didn't floor me, it at least intrigued me as to where this mixtape was gonna take/drag/fly me.

TRACK 2: Buenos Aires Beach- War On Drugs
The epiphany, the moment of truth, the beautiful bomb (war reference half-intentional) struck precisely at the 2 Minute Mark. For a song that's 3 1/2 minutes long, that's keeping your virtue longer than most, more insecure (and more radio-ready) pop songs do. But when the band drops "the moment" on you, it's like that scene in all those terrible teen movies where suddenly the protagonist discovers that the best friend has hidden charms and, oh my, SHE'S SMOKING HOT WITHOUT HER GLASSES ON! I knew I was supposed to like War On Drugs; Craig Finn told me so. This particular song is a good lo-fi ramble. I left my Hippie Psychedelic-->English dictionary in the car, so the lyrics aren't sinking in yet. A little like Bob Dylan (stream of consciousness/poetry lyrics and quirky delivery) with 13th Floor Elevators (ramshackle) and whatever indie band I'm supposed to namedrop here.
SPIKE RULE: Track 2 should almost always be better than Track 1 so as to give the listener a sense that this is A-Game, not D-League. I believe you can tell a lot about an album by its Track 2.
(Track 7s are also telling, but we'll save that for another day.) Anyone can stick their Big Gun at #1. But what else have you got?
Apparently, the War On Drugs.

TRACK 3: As Tall As Cliffs- Margot and the Nuclear So-And-Sos
In my judgmental heart and ears, I thought I knew what M&NSS would sound like (indie jamband maybe? emo-disguised-as-power-pop?) . I was wrong, thank goodness. This was the first track that I pushed repeat on. I love it.
SPIKE RULE: If the listener hasn't found a song that they can't WAIT to get back to by Track 5, you have failed.

TRACKS 4 & 5: Fitz & Dizzspells/Tenousness- Andrew Bird
Here we have the crux of the mixtape. Its very reason for existing. Charlie T knows I have some rather potent anti-hipster/anti-hype prejudice against Mr. Bird. He also knows that I am willing to be wrong (as I was when I finally got past the hype and learned to love Arcade Fire, The National, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah....the list is longer) Charlie T shows his hand relatively early and I can respect somebody who gets to the point. They are unfortunately weighted with the expectation of a guy like Darko, who didn't ask to be drafted so high in an otherwise incredible draft and then was saddled with colossal expectations.

I will say these things about these particular Andrew Bird songsand move on, as I don't want to belabor the point of the mixtape and can't possibly give them anything remotely near the pulpit-pounding conversion story that might sell. Thoughts:
:: Hearing him in my headphones is much preferred to trying to like him while dodging a parade of posing (and talky) hipsters.
:: I can't decide if I love or hate the wordiness. Lots of syllables. I can respect a literary bent. I just don't know if I appreciate or resent this one.
:: I also can't decide if the wordiness is art for art's sake or if he's trying to really get something across in traditional poetry form. I do, after consulting with Charlie T, know that his NY Times songwriting blog puts him in a very favorable, creative, thinker light.
:: I do know that I love the line (and its delivery) "Can't stand to stand, can't stand to sit, and who would want to know this?" So maybe the previous bulleted point is moot.
:: The music is very, very good. After taking passes on Armchair Apocrypha and the one about the eggs, maybe I have...finally....(spit it out) come around to Andrew Bird. (Fittingly, on an album that all the hipsters would say is not his best and on and on. I love the hipster backlash.)

TRACK 6: Mobile Parts 1 and 2- Glenn Kotche
SPIKE RULE: Challenge the listener at least once, if it won't disrupt the theme or flow too much. Take them out of their comfort zone.
I'm a huge Wilco fan. Of course I am sold. But the instrumentality of this makes it an outlier, but a smart one (with its melodicism and Wilco connection). The last minute is a little too much for me, though. I suppose a love of my eardrums hurts my ability to appreciate it. But 5 out of 6 minutes ain't bad.

TRACKS 7 & 8: Knuckles/For Boston- The Hold Steady
Also a huge Hold Steady fan, as we've documented with our Stay Positive joint review. Knuckles' narrator is so great- that pathetic Kobe-esque "You can call me Black Mamba" self-proclamation that continually fails is great, great writing. The parallel of the names he's trying to be called versus the names he's getting called is pure storytelling. Maybe Andrew Bird could take a narrative lesson.

WANTS: Freddy Knuckles IS: Right Said Fred
WANTS: Freddy Mercury IS: Right Said Fred
WANTS: Sunny D IS: Five Alive (even better because he professes to have offed 5 people, but people know he's all talk)
WANTS: Johnny Rotten IS: Freddy Fresh

I lived in Boston for about a half year once. So For Boston is nice. "Heaven is a place you can never find your cigarettes." The Hold Steady will have to make an awfully crappy record for me to turn on their playing and Craig's writing. It would require an Isiah Thomas Caliber killer.

TRACKS 9: Salome- Old 97's
I am in the rare (and much maligned) school that prefers solo Rhett Miller (with Jon Brion) to the Old 97's. I catch some heat, but, hey, I think the songs and production are better. I probably like this one because it feels like a song that could be on The Instigator.

TRACK 10: Part- Trent Belnap
You are allowed to have pet artists that you unabashedly push. It's part of being a music fan. You take every chance to spread the gospel of ____ to whoever will listen. Recipients of your mixtapes know that, somewhere in there, they're gonna get a taste of ___.
SPIKE RULE: Keep indulgences to a minimum. It's your mixtape, but you've gotta be considerate of your audience. So, yeah, indulge a little. But be wary as to where and when.
One of Charlie T's pets is Trent Belnap, somewhere below Josh Ritter, Jake Plummer, Built To Spill, and Dawn Wells in the world of Idahoan celebrities. Trent's voice is a powerhouse, evoking old school country in both its delivery and the song itself. Is this my favorite Trent Belnap song? No. But it's good and I can see why Charlie T digs it.

TRACK 11: Backwards Walk (daytrotter piano version) - Frightened Rabbit
SPIKE RULE: There's nothing wrong with including a song that the person already know (and loves). Placement, however, is key. Correct placement can build trust and help bridge the listener to the next less-familiar song.
Charlie T. dropped this song in the perfect spot, with a twist. He knew I love, love, love this song. So its inclusion is smart on its own, but he upped the ante by including a version that might actually be better than the album version AND that I had never heard. Perfect placement, right in the middle to get me back in the groove for the second half.

Part II coming next. Try to contain your enthusiasm.

Injury Report (Shaq Edition)

Shaquille O'Neal (ego) is active indefinitely

Shaquille O'Neal (being pinned down by anyone)

Shaquille O'Neal (letting Van Gundy's remarks go) is doubtful for this week, questionable for the remainder of the season

Shaquille O'Neal (making sense when he talks) is day to day

Shaquille O'Neal (hypocrite) is probably for tonight's media Q & A

Shaquille O'Neal (making up his mind about the best player he has played with) is doubtful to ever happen

Shaquille O'Neal (doing nice things for people) is active here

Shaquille O'Neal (must see TV) is day to day

Shaquille O'Neal (being bothered by only being must see TV every once in a while) is very active

Shaquille O'Neal (turning nothing into something so he can be must see TV) is highly probable

Shaquille O'Neal (being the son of an extra terrestrial from the planet Krypton) is doubtful though not entirely out of the question

Shaquille O'Neal (joining Kenny and Charles in the studio during the entire playoffs) is still about a week out

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Injury Report 3.7

Deron Williams (good haircut) is out indefinitely

Deron Williams (Friar Tuck haircut) is in the starting lineup

LeBron James (patience with teammates) is a game time decision

Mikki Moore (good playoff run pickup) is probable

Joe Smith (good playoff run pickup) is questionable

Luther Head (good playoff run pickup) is to be examined further

Jermaine O'Neal (more than 2 rebounds a game) is day-to-day

Raef LaFrentz (shoulder) is out for the season

Raef LaFrentz' expiring contract (12.75 million) is active until season's end

Tyson Chandler (awkward locker room interaction) is day to day...depending on game outcome

Allen Iverson (saying he'll come off the bench) is questionable

Anyone (believing Iverson) is unlikely

Michael Curry (actually sitting Iverson even though he gets berated during practice by A.I.) is yet to be seen

Charlotte Bobcats (in the playoff hunt) are probable

Anyone (telling Jordan he did a good job assembling a respectable team) is doubtful

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Win vs Wayne: The Rebuttal

Win Butler, as achingly evidenced by a repetoire's worth of catharsis, isn't one to
suffer in silence.

On his band's website, Win takes issue with He Whose Lips Shall Be Flamed. (After character assassinations on Beck and Richard Ashcroft, maybe their psychedelic band name is more literal than we ever would've supposed.) Here's what Win had to say (his formatting and curse words, not mine):

I can't believe I am actually writing to defend my band's "real" personality. I wish I could not respond to something like this, but the reality is, is that people will be asking me questions for the next 5 years. I also fear that people will base their opinion of our band on the media quotes of a guy who doesn't even know us.

The only time we have ever shared a stage with the Flaming Lips was our last show on the Funeral tour at a festival in Las Vegas (over 3 years ago)...we arrived the morning of the show from Brazil, slept all day and awoke into some kind of surreal Vegas jet-lag dream in which we were playing after the Flaming Lips...how strange...I was really excited to meet Wayne. Clouds Taste Metallic was a huge record for me, and growing up in the weirdness of Houston, I always imagined Oklahoma City to be in the same universe. I was really nervous to meet him and I felt a little weird that we were playing after them. We traded a little hello, but he was a hard guy to get a read on. Steven Drodz was super nice, and I felt good after talking to him...

So...I am not sure Wayne is the best judge (based on seeing us play at a couple of festivals) if we are righteous, kind and goodhearted people like The Edge and Justin Timberlake (who I am sure he knows intimately as well). I can't imagine a reason why we would have been pompous towards The Flaming Lips, a band we have always loved, on that particular night, all those years ago. Unless I was way more jet-lagged then I remember, I hope I was less of a "Prick" then telling Rollingstone that a bunch of people I don't know at all are really a bunch of assholes.
As a closing note, the main point that I am offended by in this whole thing is for Wayne to say we treat our audience like shit...

At times like these I am comforted by knowing that even though Wayne slammed Beck all those years ago, he seems like a really nice guy to me. I guess everyone has a different idea of what being pompous means.


He does pretty well, though- in places- it carries the scent of a victim and the tone of passive aggressiveness. Still, he makes good points. I can just see- if I squint my eyes real tight- all 27 members of the Arcade Fire gathered around the 13th Century abacus that they somehow got Steve Jobs to wire for the internet, (iAbacus?) Win's embossing the message on the iScroll, the band's flaming-by-committee (no pun intended) is angry and raucous and indie gothic. "Win, make sure you say that thing about Justin Timberlake I said..." (Win rolls eyes, hopes no one in the band ever listens closely enough to "Cry Me A River" to realize how he borrowed from it for "My Body Is A Cage.")

I know I'm flip-flopping. But I kind of believe them both. What is this anyway? E! Indie Rock?

Team-Ups (Wilco Edition)

Now that my internet is back up and working, after the world's largest data pile-up occurred yesterday at the on ramp somewhere between
here and here, I have a few probing, rhetorical questions.

Recently, somewhere between this song and this new song Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) played another new song called "You and I". This song is scheduled to appear on the forthcoming, still untitled, studio album.

The song "You and I", and subsequently the album, got another layer of hype added to it. As reported here Feist will be singing a duet with Tweedy on that song. I repeat, Jeff Tweedy and Leslie Feist will be singing together on the album version of "You and I".

Here come the questions:
Is this a marketing ploy from Chicago's second favorite sons?
This is hot on the heels of Starbucks promoting the last album and them selling the rights to half of Sky Blue Sky to Volkswagon. One might have thought that these guys were better than that after sticking it to Reprise with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Why Feist and not Norah Jones?
Norah has an actual history with the band covering Jesus Etc. and later joined Wilco on stage in Madison Square Garden to turn it into a duet. This sort of ties into the first question because Norah might not have the pull that Leslie does at this point.

Everyone who heard this song was floored
That was the quote for the article announcing the song. What does that even mean? Of course anyone hearing that song before the masses is going to be doing nothing but glowing over it. I don't want a sugar coated opinion. I want a quote from Jay Bennett. I want a real assessment from the most unfortunate musician in the last 10 years. In fact I want to know what Jay Bennett has to say about a lot of things.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More Matchups (pop culture edition) : Wayne vs Win

As long as we're talking about matchups and the Flaming Lips, singer Wayne Coyne has a few words (via Rolling Stone) for Win Butler and the Arcade Fire squad. Coyne can be overbearing and might be jostling for headlines, but I kind of believe him. His Earnestness Card has enough punches.

I mean, does this guy look like he might be a little self-serious? He is purportedly a stealer of basketballs.

There have been some historic feuds in the world of celebrities. Hip hop has the most, because it's almost like a rite of passage/marketing no-brainer to go after a fish bigger than your sorry gills. Some famous feuds:

2Pac vs Biggie
The biggest, as evidenced by their deaths.

Lily Allen vs Katy Perry
Battle of the hot pants. This one goes under the same Duh Marketing as hip hop, though. These GWAs need some publicity? Talk some snark about another one. For the record, Katy might be cuter, but Lily's seems cooler, smarter, and, well, less puppeteered. You know, if anyone asks.

Letterman vs Leno
I'm still dumbfounded anytime somebody says they prefer Leno. Even more dumbfounded if they're my friends. And all the more dumbfounded if they stay my friends.
David Lee Roth vs Van Halen vs Sammy Hagar vs David Lee Roth
Toby Keith & Redneck America vs Dixie Chicks
Shut Up And Sing was super enjoyable. Yes, Natalie Maines is a loose cannon. But she didn't say anything insane THAT NIGHT. How can a demographic that celebrates crap like Big & Rich and songs about Boots Up The @$# not see the fun in a little jab about a moronic President who likes to kill people? Oh. I think I just answered my own question.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

If the playoffs started today...Vol II

More matchups.

NBA Marketing vs DVR
Let's say TNT decides to show a first round game between, oh, The Shaqti and The Kobes. I'm pretty interested in seeing that game. It's a Thursday night. My DVR only lets me record 2 shows at the same time and I've got 30 Rock and The Office back-to-back, plus my wife's Grey's Anatomy. And I don't think I'm the only American who has DVR-Prioritization-Worries. Anyone who spends a little/too much/a little too much time with DVR knows that sometimes something has to give. This life-changing technology has its limits. Do you go to a bar and watch the game live, thus preserving the recording of your shows? Does it mean I'm not a real basketball fan if I think I'd rather watch Tracy Jordan and Kenneth the Page? What do you do? Does the NBA plan for this kind of stuff? I mean, they've gotta know that, in married households, Grey's Anatomy and maybe even that ridiculously terrible spin-off Private Practice are Must See Thursdays for the ladies and that the men are probably going with 30 Rock and The Office, maybe even Chuck. This was supposed to be short. Oops. (By the way, I count DVR as one of the 10 Best Advances In Entertainment Technology, somewhere between HD and IMAX.)

Tracy McGrady vs The 1st Round
The way the Rockets are playing (inspired, happy, hungry, relieved?), they could surprise someone in (if/when/etc) the first round. Who matches up with Yao? And a defense with Yao in the middle and His Brainness & Artest running around? Sheesh. But my point here is, what are the odds that, if the Rockets make a run, Tracy McGrady doesn't suddenly get healthy, say, RIGHT AFTER THE ROCKETS CLINCH GAME 7? A guy like TeeMak would count that as getting the Can't Make It Past The First Round monkey off his back. Can't you see him, an extreme post-game close-up, pointing his finger in the air, in his warm-ups, shouting, "Nothing is impossssssssiiiiiibulllllll..."? Honestly, you don't even see the potential for this to happen?

If the playoffs started today...

Here are a few of the current match-ups for the 2009 NBA Playoffs

LeBron in Cleveland for the next 10-15 vs. Mo Williams not turning into Boobie Gibson
by that I mean one lights out game and lights off every other game

Mikki Moore and Teambury vs. The Ghosts of PJ and Sam
Something tells me Mikki isn't going to rebound better than the Notorious P.J.B. in only 6 minutes per game.
And I don't see Teambury being content in warmups the entire postseason.

Iverson starting (6-18) vs. Hamilton starting (2-0)
Unless Iverson gets a walker...or waived.

NBA marketing vs. the economy
How can Stern resist Shaq vs. Kobe in the first round? 'Bro vs. Wade in the second round?
So who does he have to bribe for these to happen? Is Bennett still in his back pocket? Does he still have those pictures of Mark Cuban? Can he talk China into taking Yao back right now? Or talk Houston into waving the rest of their team?

Oklahoma: Come As You Are

Oooooooooooooooooooooklahoma has spoken. And, according to Tulsa World, the State of Oklahoma's Rock Song is....

DO YOU REALIZE?? by the Flaming Lips.

Now, a few things have to be considered:

- Does Oklahoma have the fewest Flaming Lips fans per capita? Or would that be North Dakota? I'm guessing this all happened because The Lips got their non-Okie fans onboard- street team, myspace, facebook, the text generation.

- Does that fact make it any less awesome? Come on. A song that says "Everyone you know someday will die" is a state's song? Somewhere, Chuck Palahniuk is dancing a jig.

- How great are the comments at the end of the Tulsa World article? I love the discussion of real rock songs. Seriously, read them. You'll get gems like "Would The Rolling Stones sing about Pink Robots?" (No, sir. But they would make crappy records once the 80s hit. And, for the record, Bowie would.) And how can these commenters- on the one hand- try to dismiss The Lips' worthiness because "they're stoners" and then- on the other hand- commend guys like J.J. Cale, WHO WROTE THE SONG "COCAINE." His Okie-nominated song also contains the line "we gonna chug-a-lug and shout." The logic and consistency on web peanut galleries rule.

- Why didn't they just steal something from, say, Hendrix or Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Screaming Trees? Worked for the Thunder.