The Best Albums of 2007, pt. 4

Part I ~ Part II ~ Part III

We're getting down to the wire. The year is almost over, and I'm nowhere near finished telling you about the best recorded music of 2007, at least as far as my ears were concerned. And my, is this thing ever getting unwieldy. OK, let's try to get this thing over with. Here is the last part of the list, before I unveil my pick for the absolute best album of the year. Bear with me....

The Besnard Lakes - Are The Dark Horse

I want to call this the best debut album of 2007. Trouble is, The Besnard Lakes did in fact release an album titled Volume 1 back in 2003, but it only 1000 copies were released, and it was re-released in the U.S. after Are The Dark Horse came out, so...The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse is the best debut album of 2007. And lo, they're on my new favorite record label, who along with sister label Secretly Canadian, have fashioned themselves as the new Matador thanks to a hip roster comprised of acts such as Black Mountain, Jens Lekman, Magnolia Electric Co., Antony and the Johnsons, and many others. As for the Besnard Lakes, they're built around husband and wife duo Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, and their songs hinge on the eerie Beach Boys-like falsetto of Lasek, as well as a collision between the haunted psychedelia of Syd Barrett and the rocking emotional catharsis of Sigur Ros and Godspeed You Black Emperor! Listen to "Disaster", one of the best songs of the year, or "For Agent 13," and prepare to get chills.

David Vandervelde - The Moonstation House Band
Secretly Canadian

Didn't I just say that Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar are the hippest record label this side of Matador in the mid-nineties? Look here, it's another great release from Secretly Canadian. This one's from a wunderkind Chicago multi-instrumentalist whose sound might make you think that Marc Bolan never died.

"Jacket" - from The Moonstation House Band
Buy it Here

Richard Swift - Dressed Up for the Letdown
Secretly Canadian

OK, seriously, think back to when all the best bands in indie rock were all on one label, like Touch and Go, or Sub Pop, or Merge, or 4AD. Now look at this: ANOTHER GREAT RECORD FROM SECRETLY CANADIAN/JAGJAGUWAR. It's almost too good to be true. But it is true. I read someone else describe Richard Swift as some dude wearing a poncho and channeling Harry Nilsson, and since I'm a lazy, plagiarizing music reviewer, I'll just echo his words. Like Vandervelde, Swift is a multi-instrumentalist seemingly transported from a long-gone era. His music is as appealingly old-fashioned as it is touchingly beautiful.

PJ Harvey - White Chalk

When I mentioned Radiohead's In Rainbows earlier in this list, it sparked a little bit of a debate between me, Paul and Jeff about whether that group relied too much on a "formula", and whether that formula had become boring. Though fans of PJ Harvey's music might have some idea what to expect when faced with a new record of hers, she can't truly be said to fall on a formula, and she's certainly never boring. For White Chalk, she forced herself into a creative corner by composing all of the songs on piano, an instrument she had to learn from scratch to play. That challenge paid off in the form of one of her best records, totally different from anything else in her catalog.

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Boy am I repeating myself here, but here goes: you kind of know what to expect when you get a new Spoon record, right? Great big hooks, sparse instrumentation, Britt Daniel's haiku-like lyrics. But goddammit if Spoon doesn't take that formula and make it sound like you've never heard anything like it with each ensuing album. That must surely be a sign of genius in art: taking a limited set of variables, like squares of primary colors or a 12-tone scale of notes, and constructing something new and interesting with it on a consistent basis. I don't know how it's possible, but Britt Daniel has done it again and that's why Britt Daniel is a genius and I am not.

Dungen - Tio Bitar

Dungen makes heavy psychedelic music that sounds practically lifted from some foggy meadow circa-1967. Someone might read that and think, "who in the hell wants to listen to psychedelic music in 2007." Let me ask you this: who doesn't want to listen to psychedelic music in 2007? Aren't the times absolutely begging for music that transports someone away from the fucked-up mess that surrounds them? Wasn't that exactly what happened in 1967? The world might not think so (and according to the whispers I've heard on the internet, Dungen's home country of Sweden doesn't exactly think so either). But I look at the turmoil in the world--the quagmire in Iraq, the pending Armageddon in Iran, political assassinations in Pakistan, a tanking economy at home--and I think, why aren't there more bands like Dungen out there right now? The protest movement has gotten off the streets and gone online, but why doesn't it have a soundtrack like the movements of the sixties? Well, for those of you who wonder the same thing, let Dungen be your Jefferson Airplane.

Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Paw Tracks

For those psychedelia skeptics that I imagined into existence in the previous paragraphs, here's a psychedelic record that makes sense in the 21st century, soaked in reverb but built with sampling technology. Others have mentioned Brian Wilson when describing this record, so again, being lazy, I'll do it too: this sure as hell reminds me of Brian Wilson when I listen to it. Maybe if Brian Wilson were born in the seventies and decided to stay in his room and replace his brothers with his Mac, it would sound like Person Pitch. It works, in a way that Panda Bear's other gig, Animal Collective, hasn't worked for me as yet. Now I'll admit that I haven't listened to much of their stuff, but what I have listened too sounds jarring and contrived, whereas this sounds organic and fluid. When I heard about this record, and I heard that Panda Bear was living in Portugal with a wife and child, I thought, well, it looks like this Panda Bear is starting a solo career. I thought that even though I knew nothing about him or his other band, which he has not left, but when I thought it, and then listened to this record, I thought, man, what a great move. This guy is a genius, he doesn't need anyone else. Not being totally versed in Animal Collective, I won't come right out and say he should quit Animal Collective and be a cool solo artist based out of Lisbon (how cool is that?), but I will say this: of all his colleagues in Animal Collective, Panda Bear has the best nickname. I mean, they're Animal Collective: how come he's the only one who is named after an animal?

Man has this list gotten huge. It isn't even a list...I haven't counted, but I think I've named a lot more than 10 albums already, and aren't all lists supposed to come in tens? Perhaps that's just my western mind trying to hold me down. And get this: I'm not done yet. No, I still have to name the best album of 2007. I don't know if you're even still with me, but stay tuned: it'll get here soon (though possibly not in the actual year 2007).

Oh, and if you haven't let me know yet, tell me what you think were the best records of the year. I'm all ears.


The Best Albums of 2007, pt. 3

Part 1 ~ Part 2

Even though I've mentioned many times that I don't listen to stuff that gets played on the radio, I've realized that some of the stuff might actually get played somewhere on the radio. Big as this country is, there just might be some commercial radio station out there that plays Okkervil River all day long, but wherever that it is, it isn't anywhere I know (unless you're counting college radio, which I'm not...which isn't to say college radio isn't awesome, which it is, especially if you live within the usually short broadcasting radius of your typical college radio station). Ironically, it seems that I often hear cool music being played or talked about on NPR programs such as All Things Considered or Fresh Air; often times they'll profile an interesting group or musician, and plenty of times I've heard cool stuff being played as bumper music on some of their programs. Sometimes, in the more snobbish sectors of music fandom, I hear "NPR Music" being referred to in derisive terms, as in "that sounds like the kind of music you would hear on NPR," ironically (but isn't it always?) being said by people who are in fact the kind of people who would listen to said music, as well as the kind of people who listen to NPR regularly--I guess we can chalk it up to the tendency for "hip" and educated people to engage in self-loathing as a habit (hi, I'm Jake, and I loathe myself...) Ah, if only we could all live in Southern California and be able to listen to KCRW whenever we felt like switching on a radio.

Y'know, on second thought, I think I'll skip SoCal and just listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic over the internet....

Today's segment of the Best Albums of 2007 focuses on music that is just mainstream enough, in some cases more mainstream than others, to possibly be played on the radio, or to be purchased at your local Target, or to appear in a Passat or iPod commercial.

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

This is the best album Wilco has ever done. If ever I'm asked what album to buy if someone has never listened to Wilco, I'm going to recommend Sky Blue Sky (then Being There, then Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, then Summerteeth, then A Ghost is Born, no maybe Ghost before Teeth...) I say this with no reservations. This sounds like the album Jeff Tweedy has been trying to make for his whole career. Everything works, everything sounds great. It's that simple. I can hear the self-loathing hipster in me making all the standard arguments against Wilco (actually, now that I'm a homeowner and a parent, that hipster's voice is a lot harder to hear). He's gonna say something about the Volkswagen commercials, something about the band not being the same now that Jay Bennett's not in it, something about them sounding like the Eagles (actually, Jeff heard that one)...WHATEVER, DUDE. Here you go: selling out means nothing anymore. In fact, considering that you essentially never have to pay for music anymore, selling your songs to Volkswagen is about the only way a non-billionaire musician can make money. Jay Bennett: tell you what, I don't really like Summerteeth that much. It's overproduced. I can listen to Pet Sounds if I want to hear Pet Sounds. And have you listened to a Jay Bennett solo album? It's great if you're interested in the production of music, but if you want to hear great songs? Not so much. And the Eagles? Screw that noise. This is plain great music. And Nels Cline's guitar work is beyond sublime; a coworker of mine complained that Cline was handcuffed by Tweedy and never gets the chance to really shred, but if you listen closely to Cline's fretwork on a song like "Impossible Germany," you'll agree that virtuosity sometimes has more to do with what one doesn't play rather than what they do.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Raising Sand
Rounder Records

This might be the musical equivalent of stunt-casting. When I saw the two of them on the cover of this album, I just knew I wanted to listen to it. And to know that it was produced by T-Bone Burnett, the Coen Brothers' resident musicologist? Yeah, I was signed up at the gate. Part of my admiration for this has to do with my being a fan of the male/female duet, for instance: Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood, Johnny & June Carter Cash, Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and so on. The difference between those duos and this one is the fact that in the rest of them, there was a male voice and a female voice, and y'know, I think Plant's voice might just be higher than Krauss's. We could go on about this, and honestly, this is a record that invites that kind of contemplation and more. There is plenty to like here, and plenty to keep you coming back. Along with this: they've got to be, ahem, "together," right? I mean, if you look at the back cover of this record, I'm pretty damn sure that one of them has their hand down the back pocket of the other's jeans...or maybe both of them do?

Feist - The Reminder

Oh, Feist. There's something about this woman that makes her irresistible; no, scratch that, there's a hell of a lot about her that makes her irresistible, chief among them being her sultry, sexy vocal cords, which are living proof that the best, sexiest voices often aren't the ones that hit the most octaves or do the trickiest acrobatics. Take Al Green, Marvin Gaye, hell, Kylie Minogue, and for sure Goldfrapp and our very own Leslie Feist. Is she the most attractive woman in the world? She may be no Jessica Alba, and that might be a really good thing, but damn can she play guitar, and that voice. Oh man. I'm looking forward to her reading of the Greater Chicagoland phone book I heard she was going to do. Hey, here's an idea for a great vocal duo: Jarvis Cocker and Feist. Could give Serge and Jane a run for their money, no?

"I Feel it All" - from The Reminder
Buy it Here

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Gotta hand it to Radiohead: they're the only band I can think of who can make headlines just for releasing a record, and the only ones who can back it up with music that merits the world's attention. Who else does it? U2? Nope, I don't think so. How much did I pay for this record? Erm, the same as I paid for most of the records I listen to...ahem, well, anyway, you could call this a return to form, but Radiohead has never lost its form: it just invents new ones.

"Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" - from In Rainbows

Thurston Moore - Trees Outside the Academy
Ecstatic Peace!

Actually, you might not find Thurston's first solo record since 1995's Psychic Hearts at your local Target. But no matter where you have to go to find it, you by all means should seek out this record. It sounds different from anything he's done lately with Sonic Youth, thanks in no small part to contributions from J Mascis, Charalambides's Christina Carter, as well as from the always rock-solid perfect drumming of Steve Shelley, beyond any doubt SY's secret weapon since EVOL.

Ween - La Cucaracha
Rounder Records

You might call this record a return to form, but only if you didn't like Quebec, which I did, or Shinola, Vol. 1, which I did as well but apparently Dean Ween himself did not. Dean, I'm glad someone else, possible Geaner, has better sense than you. But anyway, Paul says this is their best since Chocolate and Cheese. I'm not sure about that, but it's pretty damn good. It says something when a band who used to be so subversive they improved a Leonard Cohen album cover by adding a Scotchguard bong to it nowadays is subversive for convincing lite-jazz icon David Sanborn to blow his sax over one of their tracks. That would be "The Party," which features the following lyric:

Later on when we were under the covers
I closed my eyes, then I drifted to sleep
I dreamt about me maybe throwing a party
And just how great that would be

And we said
We had the best time at your party
The wife and I thank you very much
We had the best time at your party
The wife and I thank you very much
And that's long after "Fiesta," which opens the album and sounds a lot like Herb Alpert playing the theme to Meatballs, and "Object," which hits all the scary-stalker notes like only Ween can do.


The Best Albums of 2007, pt. 2

Hi again. Here are a few more of albums I really enjoyed this year. That's all the criteria I have for this ongoing list, which is in no particular order.

The Takeovers - Bad Football
Off Records

I forget just how long Guided By Voices has been "broken up;" perhaps it's enough to say they broke up when Tobin Sprout left the band. Anyway, Robert Pollard soldiers on, just not as GBV, and you can count me as one who gave up paying too much attention after his first post-GBV solo record. Yet somehow I felt compelled to listen to his latest band-of-the-day, The Takeovers, where he's allegedly abetted by Stephen Malkmus, as well as members of Tad, Mudhoney, and the Decemberists. Whatever--this sounds like anything else that might have come out of the Captain's suitcase in GBV's salad years. For those of you who remember those days and still think fondly of them, Bad Football might just hit that spot for you; you know what spot I'm talking about. It might even inspire a whole new audience to discover Pollard's music; unlike most of his one-offs, this one seems like it might hold his attention for more than a few releases. For almost everyone else: well, as Bob himself says, "If you don't want it, don't buy it."

"Molly & Zack" - from Bad Football
Buy it Here

The Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Ramseur Records

So you hear about this three-piece consisting of two actual, mostly bearded brothers who play guitars, banjos, and assorted other instruments, along with their friend on stand-up bass. And you think, OK, cool, here's another old-timey bluegrass throwback; this might be something I would recommend to my mom, who loved the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack. But goddamn, just about anyone who loves great songwriting and good pop music would enjoy Emotionalism, so you can recommend this to all of your bearded and non-bearded friends, as well as your mom. Call it bluegrass-meets-power pop. That sound good to you?


The Best Albums of 2007, pt. I

So here are the conditions: I am going to tell you about the albums I listened to that had some kind of effect on me this year. Too vague? Put it this way: all of the albums did something to me--got in my head so much that I had to listen to them again, then again; made my jaw drop as soon as they started; made me think "where the hell did this come from?"; etc. Not scientific, but I am not a scientist (unless you're talking about libraries, in which case I am a Library Scientist). Furthermore, since I'm incapable of putting things in lists, I'm going to cite the albums that grabbed me in a nonlinear fashion, devoting a post to a couple of them, and saying as much as I can muster about them. After I'm done and I've done some reflecting on it, I'll attempt to name one of them my "best" album of the year.

Oh, and don't think that you can just sit back and let me do all the work here: I want to know what you think the best albums of the year were. Why? Because I care what you think. Plus, I want to know about all of the good music I don't know about, didn't have a chance to listen to, or haven't get around to listening to on my iPod yet. So give a brother a hand. Send me a comment and let me know if you like, love, or hate the albums I mention, and if I missed something, let me know about that too. Cheers.

Okkervil River - The Stage Names

This album falls under the jaw-dropping category, as well as the "where did this come from?" one. I had heard about them for a while, but never listened to any of their albums. As soon as I heard this, suffice it to say I went and heard all of the other ones about as fast as I could.

This band gets called "literary" about as much as does The Decemberists, but seems to enjoy a far smaller popular audience than that band, which is a shame that one hopes The Stage Names will rectify, but who knows. "Literary" is as useless a label for music as is "alternative" or "grunge," but apparently is meant to signify that a group's lyrics are a tad more complex than "Wild thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything, groovy," but more often than not implies pretension or preciousness. Well, this album suffers from neither affliction. The first track, "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe," rocks harder than one would expect a group of "bookish" lads to rock, and when the closer, "John Allyn Smith Sails," segues into a laughing reprise of "Sloop John B," let me say that even though I'm an incurable Beach Boys nerd, I think it's hard for anyone to hear that and not break out in an ear-to-ear grin. This is a hell of a charming record, and this group deserves to be someone's favorite band.

The Raveonettes - Lust Lust Lust
Fierce Panda Records

I don't think this album has been released in the U.S. yet. That's our loss. This is sexy, downbeat, candy-coated music from the Jesus and Mary Chain's hot Danish godchildren. The track "You Want the Candy" is a mission statement of sorts: they know we want the candy, the dirty sweet candy, so here's the sweet sweet candy. It feels bad, but it tastes real good. This record belongs in the pantheon of great break-up albums.


Not the best albums of 2007

Looking at the calendar, we are almost smack in the middle of the last month of the year. 2007 is actually coming to an end. Whee. So now we're starting see all kinds of year-end lists.

Yeah. I have real trouble making lists. I can usually pick something I liked the best, but I can't really slot things into subordinate spaces. Plus it's hard for me to remember all of the things that tickled my fancy over the course of 365 or so days, what with the head injuries and all, and especially with the music, which I can hardly even listen to if I wanted to, despite the fact I have my iPod strapped to me for a good three-plus hours every day.

There's bound to be a good debate somewhere about how useless all of these year-end lists are. I don't really have too much to say about that. Stephen King did a list of his favorite albums of the year in the last Entertainment Weekly. He might not be the world's foremost musical tastemaker, but really, how different or more unique or qualified are King's opinions than those of the A.V. Club? They both liked Sky Blue Sky, as well they should. So yeah.

Anyway. I'll have to think about my favorite records of 2007 just a bit more before I subject my verdict on you all. In the meantime, I present to you a topic that's far easier for me to pass judgment on:

Bedheaded's Least Favorite Albums of 2007.

Now keep in mind that even though I said I listen to just about everything, I don't actually in fact listen to genuinely everything. If I had to be more precise about it, I would go ahead and say that the music that I don't like is the kind of music that gets played on the radio. So that's just about everything that is played on just about every radio station. 'Cause seriously, now that radio stations are manned and programmed by robots, there's only really a handful of radio station types: classic rock (Led Zep, the Nuge, etc), modern rock (whatever kind of stuff they play between scenes on The Real World and various CW shows), adult contemporary (stuff you would hear in a dentist's office, intermixed with the latest American Idol castoffs), rap and hip hop (not my kind of rap and hip hop I would care to listen to--let's just say they aren't spinning MF Doom or El-P there), oldies (more Eagles and Steve Miller Band nowadays than Beatles or Roy Orbison), country (Carrie Underwood and garbage more wretched than her), and inspirational (I can't describe this one, because I want to vomit just thinking about it). Lately there's been a rise in stations that belligerently repeat the mantra "we play what we want," and given a single-syllable male name (in Chicago, it's "Jack-FM"; I think Bloomington has one called "Chuck-FM"); the playlist for this station seems to be an exact facsimile of a random playlist circa 1986 to 1991 from an old Peoria station called KZ-93, which all the kids listened to back in the day (you know who you are), intermixed with the odd Wall of Voodoo cut or "Lunatic Fringe". It can be entertaining for a while, but it's still run by robots. Chicago has one station that isn't run by robots, not that it does it any favors not being run by robots; I'm talking about XRT, which I described at the urging of a noted XRT critic as being like that one guy you know who's kind of cool and was into that mix you made him with Sufjan Stevens and PJ Harvey on it who still bores you with an umpteenth retelling of story about how he went to Summerfest and saw Dave Matthews Band open for Hootie and the Blowfish and how great it was. All that's left in this landscape is NPR, which is all I listen to on the radio.

Sorry. I got sidetracked there for a moment. The reason I launched into all that was to say that this list doesn't include Kelly Clarkson, or J-Lo, or whatever else kind of crap I don't even know the name of (Hannah Montana, I guess?), because I don't ever have to listen to it, and I don't bother trying. I guess that's a good reason to never become a professional music critic. I never even think about straying away from the public radio sector of the radio dial, unless it's to flip over to AM to listen to the Cubs.

So for me, the worst albums of the year have all come from artists whose previous work I've enjoyed, and from who I have come to respect a certain level of quality. They're kind of like disappointing sequels to great movies.

Here they are in no particular order:

  • Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
    • I don't dislike this this album, but I don't feel like listening to it too often, which wasn't the case with Funeral, which I listened to for a couple of weeks straight. I think it's a case of trying to follow a classic, near-universally revered record with one that couldn't possible live up to its predecessor. And this doesn't really say anything about this record or this band, but the amount of hype surrounding them has drained some of my interest for them; I mean, I love David Bowie, and really like Bruce Springsteen, but I think it's still premature to start trying to shove them into your category, great as their first album was, and OK as this one is. Part of it also had to do with seeing them play Lollapalooza a couple summers ago, at the peak of the Funeral hype, and being put off by the showiness of their performance. I got real sick of the one guy whose whole job in the band seems to be monkeying around on stage and beating up the other guy in the band who looks like Napoleon Dynamite. I thought at the time that they had reached a point where they were going to have to do more by way of playing their instruments than banging them around in order to prove that their fame had more to do with the music than hype. And when Neon Bible came out, I saw a bunch of reviews that trotted out the old saw about them being more of a "live" band than a studio band--hence, you get more out of bloated, overblown anthems when you see a guy beating the crap out of Napoleon Dynamite. See, that stuff doesn't last forever, but it might get you in the hall of fame. This isn't a bad record, but they sound like they've gotten puffed up on richer meals than they could previously afford and the hype that comes along with being David Bowie's favorite band, which by the way, did nothing to prevent The Pixies or Grandaddy from breaking up, and didn't do much to sell their albums either.

  • Interpol - Our Love to Admire
    • I have to admit that I didn't even finish listening to this one. The formula doesn't work anymore. And "The Heinrich Maneuver" doesn't have a thing to do with a point guard for the Chicago Bulls, who coincidentally doesn't have "it" anymore either. This one bums me out, because I loved their first two albums.

  • Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
    • This one wasn't much of a surprise, because I hated Good News for People Who Love Bad News. They say that this band is better because Johnny Marr is in it. I'm not the biggest Smiths fan in the world, but can anyone point out exactly what Johnny Marr adds to Modest Mouse? He's regarded by some as one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived, but all I can hear is Isaac Brock.

  • Band of Horses - Cease to Begin
    • Like Neon Bible, I don't really dislike this album, more that it's hard for me to listen to it and wish it was more like its much better predecessor. It may grow on me eventually, but any more something has to grab me right away before I want to move on the tons of other stuff on my iPod that I haven't listened to yet.

  • The Shins - Wincing the Night Away
    • Not so much bad as just disappointing. Other than the single, "Phantom Limb," which is stellar and will easily be the third or fourth best track on this band's eventual greatest hits album, the whole thing to me sounds fussy and overproduced. A band that relies on hooks as much as The Shins is in a sorry state when they produce an album with minimal hooks. Put it this way: when they appeared on Saturday Night Live in support of this record, they played "Phantom Limb" and "New Slang," which was a highlight on Oh, Inverted World and the Garden State soundtrack. You could say it was an attempt to kindle interest in people who didn't know the band but remember them as the ones with that one song from that one movie, but what does it say about the album they were supposedly on SNL to promote?

  • The New Pornographers - Challengers
    • This was a huge disappointment in my eyes. The whole thing just drags and drags and drags, until Dan Bejar shows up and tries to inject a little of his mojo. But it's too little, too late. Call me a lazy fan, but I don't care who you are: it's OK to change the formula (see Kid A et. al.), but the material has to make it worth your audience's time to try and get used to your "new direction". And if you've got Neko Case on the clock--in my opinion, the finest vocalist working anywhere in recorded music right now--don't beat around the bush and make her a glorified back-up vocalist. Sheesh.
So that's my opinion anyway. What were your least favorite records of 2007? Was it the kind of stuff that gets played on the radio? 'Cause I don't know about that stuff. Snark away, I implore you.


Oh, Hello There!

Oh! Hi there. Seems like I've been gone for some time. How long has it been? Almost eight months? Whew. Time really flies, doesn't it?

Well, I know it has been quite some time, but I'm back now, and that's all that matters. I would like to promise you that I'll be back again tomorrow, or a week from now, but I can't promise that, so let's just focus on now and worry about later when it's later. OK?

Where have I been? Oh, I'm still here, where I've always been. I still work at New Deal University. It's fine. It's not perfect, but no job ever is. Honestly, I have a job doing what I enjoy doing, and more often than not it feels like I really help people. How many people can say that about their job. Right. So I've got no complaints really. We even started a blog, so you can say that I'm getting paid to blog. But not for this blog.

What's new with me? Well, I'm a father now. I used to think it was weird too, but I can't imagine it being any other way at this point. He's great. He's lots of fun to be around. He can sit up, but he can't crawl yet. I think he inherited his daddy's useless hair, so we'll call him Bedheaded Jr. Hopefully he'll take everything else after Mrs. Bedheaded.

Why did I come back? I missed this, I guess. It's a weird feeling. Sort of like standing in the doorway of this massive, darkened room, like a warehouse or something, and having a boring, one-sided conversation with someone who may or may not be standing on the other side of the room. Plus people I really respect are doing it, so there's a part of me that wants to keep up with people who inspire me. There are even some people who said they kind of liked it. Go figure.

And there's the music. Man, the music. I had to do something. I couldn't keep up with it any other way. I guess I blame the iPod. It seems anymore that my taste in music is defined by the need to get more new stuff in my iPod. It's sad because I only listen to most things once, and sometimes not even once, but I just have to hear it all, and at the very least to have it on my hard drive in case I want to listen to it at some point in the future. I'm really picky about my hard drive. All of the folders need to be named accurately, and I run all of the mp3s through a tagging database that automatically finds the correct track names and re-tags the files, and only after that's been done to I drag it into iTunes. I'd say it has less to do with being a librarian and more to do with OCD. And I want to have the entire album. I'm not interested in single tracks. I don't want to devote an entire folder to a single track. Do I feel guilty? Not really. I consider myself to be a "superconsumer" of music. I want to listen to darn near everything. If you could categorize the kind of music I like to listen to, which I said is just about everything, and consider the fact that I have an insatiable desire to listen to absolutely everything that interests me, then I think I would be in something like the 99.9th percentile of music listeners. If I could make up for it in any way, I guess it would be to write about what I'm listening to here on this blog. It would be hard to write a whole lot about everything, so I'll just write what I can about the stuff that makes a real impression on me. I wish I could say more about the music I liked in a way that made it sound really great and made everyone else want to listen to it, but it's hard for me to do that in a way that's really clever, so I'm going to do the best I can.

Lately I've enjoyed the hell out of the new Black Mountain album. I've listened to it twice, and you can tell I really enjoyed something if I listen to it twice. I know, it's not out yet. But watch for it--it's awesome. It's a shame it won't come out until January, because if it came out now, I think it would be on just about everybody's list of the year's best albums. I know, I can't believe we're already seeing those lists. It feels like Halloween was last week. Well anyway, here's a track from the new Black Mountain album. They said I could share it with you, so here it is.

Black Mountain - "Tyrants"
From In The Future [Jagjaguwar, 2008]

I know, there's so much to talk about. And I really do want to tell you everything. I'm going to do my best and be a good blogger and come back here and tell you everything that's going on with me. I guess the one thing I wanted to say more than anything is that, you know, it's not going to get much better than this. I've come to terms with that. I could say that this is going to make me a better writer, but I've come to realize that this is about as good a job as I'm ever going to do at writing. More than anything else, I've always wanted to be thought of as an "intellectual." I've given up on wanting that, or any kind of thing like that. To be honest with you, I'm not really much of an intellectual, and I'm not really what one could call a "smart person." I think I've sustained too many blows to the head to be really intelligent. I'm not kidding. I've been hit in the head so many times, hard enough to make my think my skull was going to cave in, that I think it's a matter of time before I start twitching and drooling on a regular basis. I wish I was kidding, I really do. It helps that I have a thick forehead, another thing the boy has seemingly inherited from his daddy, but honestly, how much can one person take as far as head trauma goes before that head stops working? I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.

See, now I've gone and said too much. And I haven't even asked how you were doing.



I have been pretty disgusted with a news story that came out recently here in Chicago. "Allegedly," a woman killed her 5-year-old daughter by punching her in the face and beating her head against a wall, and then promptly gave birth to a baby boy, her eighth child.

Investigators have said that the girl was routinely tortured by the mother; she had cigarette burns on her skin, ligature marks on her ankles from being tied in a closet when the mother felt like leaving the home, burn marks on her back from scalding water and/or oil, black eyes from being punched in the face--a regular occurence, apparently--a broken nose, and marks that investigators believe were made when the girl was beaten with a cord upon her abdomen and legs.

To make matters worse, the other six children were encouraged to beat the girl--something a Cook County public guardian calls "a classic example of an abuse phenomenon where only one child is targeted by parents, but the others pay a terrible price....All of these kids, to an extent, they were abused, essentially raised in a climate of violence, taught violence....From my perspective, all of these kids are in the same boat." One of the girl's siblings explained: "Everyone hit Melanie because she touched our things."

I said it was disgusting, didn't I? It gets worse. The six surviving children were ordered to clean up the house before police arrived. When the police arrived and surveyed the scene, the mother pointed to one of her other daughters and announced, "She did it."

To be quite honest, I have been more disturbed by this story than I have been disturbed by anything I can remember for some time. Part of it could be explained by the fact that I'm about to become a parent myself. Lately, it has been hard for me to even see fictionalized accounts of children in peril.

The whole sorry scene is disgusting enough due to the gory details, but what's also disgusting is the fact that this waste of flesh upon which the word "mother" is wasted is only twenty-nine years old. Yet she had so many children that she popped an eighth out near about the same time she was murdering one of her remaining seven. Here I am about to turn 31, and I'm just getting around to welcoming my first offspring into the world. We want to have more, but it's a safe bet it will be a good two or three years before we start trying for offspring #2. You hear about so many people in the world who want so desperately to be parents but cannot for whatever reason, who have so much love to give to a child, and then there's this disgusting waste of life to make the whole thing even more tragic.

I believe myself to be pretty liberal politically, to the point that I identify with politically liberal stances that I would not choose for myself--for instance, I am pro-choice, but I think that abortion is horrible. I am also against the death penalty, but stories like this make it hard for me to stay true to that belief.

I think that the death penalty is a wasteful, ineffective, morally indefensible anachronism. One of my rationalizations is that it does not seem to be an effective deterrent, nor an appropriate penalty for the often horrendous crimes for which it is enforced. I believe that spending the remainder of one's natural life locked in prison, forced to while away day after day in institutionalized repetition, while people living often just yards away are able to live peaceful, law-abiding lives is far worse a punishment than being humanely put to sleep.

Having this position may make me out to be some sort of forward-thinking, humane person. I think it's probably more to do with my thinking the death penalty, if it is to be an effective punishment, should be less humane. If trading death for death is to be eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth, let it truly be
eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth.

It probably makes me a horrible person for suggesting such a thing, but I think that the above serves as a perfect case for such biblical punishment.

After hearing about all of the terrible things this "mother" did to her own child, does it not seem appropriate to wish the exact same damage visited upon her own worthless person? Who would cry for humanity at such a scenario, save for this wicked person's own mother, who in doing so would demonstrate far more motherly humanity than this other "mother" visited upon her child during her bitter, brief lifetime?

Proposing the invention of this kind of institutionalized retribution, it almost goes without saying, would institutionalize brutality on scale dwarfing the brutality currently at work in our own system of capital punishment. But it goes a long way toward suggesting an appropriate punishment for this worthless person, at least in my mind. So consider this: collect a detailed account of the torture and abuse suffered by that poor, defenseless child, and there you would have a schedule of horror ready to inflict upon this vile waste of carbon for the last five years of her worthless life.

Brutal? Inhumane? I think you're right. But again, consider what she'll be facing if she does in fact get the death penalty, and tell me you don't think my proposal fits the crime
far better.

In lieu of that Pol Pot-esque scenario ever seeing daylight in this country, the only solace left someone as disgusted by this story as I am is the old folk tale of the hatred other prison inmates feel for those prisoners who are convicted and jailed for abusing children. According to news accounts, this might already be taking place. "
[H]er lawyer suggested [the "mother"] is in danger in jail....[She] has been shouted at and given threatening looks by inmates in the Maywood lockup where she has been held since her arrest." One wonders if the prisoners read newspapers or watch the evening news, or even read blogs.

The death penalty, I argue, can never be morally justified, just as a moral society would never endorse the vengeful punishment that I wish would be visited upon this deserving piece of scum. Therefore, a moral society should abolish the death penalty. Let the evil scum of the Earth rot in prison, a place with its own sense of morality and punishment unknown to those who never cross its gates.


Today, I learned a word of Spanish

Dear hospital complaint person,

On Wednesday evening my wife and I were attending a Breastfeeding class at Illinois Masonic. Our letter directed us to check in at the hospital's main information desk before going to the classroom. This was at about 6:30 - 6:45 pm. The two young men directed us towards the education center, and as we began to walk away, I heard one of them utter the word "cabron," in what I felt was our general direction. Neither of us are Spanish-speakers, so when we went home, we Googled the word, and discovered it had a number of
unsavory connotations. This made us upset. I know that if I were to make a similar kind of utterance at my own job in the direction of any of my patrons, I would likely face some sort of discipline in the near future. We are very disappointed that this occurred, and hope that we do not face similar situations as we visit Illinois Masonic in the months leading up to the delivery of our first child.

Sincerely, Bedheaded

The writing and sending of the above is a big deal to me, because whenever something like this happens to me, I spend a lot of time ranting and raving about it. This is really the first time I've decided to direct that anger into a complaint letter. My fear is that from this point forward, I'll be one of those people that writes letters whenever anything happens to them. Maybe the next step in that progression is to become one of those people who calls their lawyer whenever something happens to them.

To prove I'm not that much of a "cabron," here are some choice tracks from Mr. Secret Agent Man, Johnny Rivers, and a bonus cut from my favorite Rolling Stones record (yes, way more than Exile on Main Street, which would come in second for me...what can I say, I'm a sucker for big pop hooks, especially big pop hooks specifically requested by the Lord of the Flies). You know, for having as successful a pop music career as Johnny Rivers had, he sure had a warbly, almost-tuneless voice.

Johnny Rivers - "Whiter Shade of Pale"

Johnny Rivers - "Baby I Need Your Lovin'"

Johnny Rivers - "Summer Rain"
From The Johnny Rivers Anthology: 1964-1977 [Rhino, 1991]

The Rolling Stones - "She's a Rainbow"
From Their Satanic Magesties Request [ABKCO, 1967]


The only thing we have to fear is....AAAAHHHH! FEAR!!!!

Remember 9/11? Remember how frequently after 9/11 the following proposition would be made: "if we allow X to happen, then the terrorists have won"? Would it be overstating things to say "if we allow a hare-brained marketing campaign for a stoner-friendly cartoon show to bring a major American city to its knees, then the terrorists have won?" I didn't think so, so here goes: the terrorists have won. Which is amazing, because I sincerely doubt the terrorists would be that into Aqua Teen Hunger Force, though their interest in Danish cartoons has been noted by several major media outlets.

Though if you've seen those Mooninites in action, maybe one ought to be afraid...I mean, their vertical leap is beyond all measurement. We should be relieved that it was Ignigknot and not Err....

You know, I don't want to seem like I'm belittling what is obviously genuine panic and fear being felt by Bostonians, but when you hear stuff like the following being said by apparently reasonable people, you have to marvel at the hysteria this little episode has caused:

"Just a little over a mile away from the placement of the first device, a group of terrorists boarded airplanes and launched an attack on New York City," [Boston] police Commissioner Edward Davis said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"The city clearly did not overreact. Had we taken any other steps, we would have been endangering the public," he said. (Link)

Well, not to make anybody panic any more than the already are, but the Chicago Tribune just reported that actual, honest-to-goodness pipe bombs, or as they call them in Iraq, "improvised explosive devices", were sent to offices in Chicago and Kansas City the last few days:

Though [Kansas City Postal Inspector Don] Obritsch described Wednesday's bomb as an "actual I.E.D., improvised explosive device,'' he said it appeared more designed to frighten than kill.

"This was the real deal, but it was not primed to go off,'' Obritsch said. ``To some extent, it was a device meant to scare people.'' (Link)

Are the people of America scared? I should be scared...one of those bombs was sent to a building not one block north of the one I work in. But I don't know, I'm not home to see if MSNBC or any other major media outlet is currently providing blanket coverage of this apparently genuine attempt to strike fear in the hearts of everyday Americans. However, I wouldn't be at all surprised if any of those media outlets are currently devoting precious airtime dissecting the aftermath of the brazen Mooninite terror campaign.


Takin' the El to Hell

When I last wrote about being glad to leave the city, I don't think I adequately conveyed my distaste for the El. There are so many bad things to say about the el, I don't think that one post would be enough to cover them all. But I'll do my best.

I ride the Brown line during both "peak periods" of the day. In the morning I have a good chance of getting a seat, because I live further north on the line. When I first started riding on the El, I was shy about taking seats. It felt weird sitting so close to strangers, especially if the the car was relatively empty. I've gotten over that. Standing on the El seems kind of romantic if you've seen people do it in movies, but having to stand around ass-to-ass with the general public while the train sits idle on the track for fifteen minutes without explanation is about as romantic as visiting a slaughterhouse in July.

I head straight for a seat when I see one; I prefer the single seats, if there are any, and if not, I try to get an outside seat in the middle of the car. If I have to stand, I go right to the middle-most part of the car. When I used to think standing was cool, I would park myself right near the doors. This seems to make sense at first, because there appears to be the most standing room near the doors. However, whatever space there is near the doors quickly disappears once more people get on, and the space near the doors starts to look like a can of human sardines. If you stand in the middle of the car, you'll still be standing close to people, but you won't be embracing them. I've often been in El cars where the people standing in the middle have a reasonable amount of elbow room--enough to read a paper or book while standing--while the people standing near the doors are entangled in a cheek-to-jowl death-embrace. One time back in my door-standing days I had to ride between stops with some dude literally embracing me: I had my back to the plexiglass divider, and he was stuck without a pole to grasp, so he resorted to grabbing the top of the plexiglass with both hands. So I spent the time with dude's arms wrapped around my head and dude's chest flush with mine. Some people might find that romantic, but I didn't at the time.

One thing I don't understand at all is when people won't take a seat when the train is full. People will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and someone will leave a seat, and no one standing around it will take the seat. It could be because the men standing near it feel especially chivalrous, but the women towards whom those noble impulses are directed find it insulting. I don't know, maybe they just happen to be people who really like standing--like I said, I don't understand it at all. All I know is that it is one of the most awkward situations one can encounter on the El. It simply should not happen.

When a seat opens on a train that is packed with people, for goodness sakes, somebody take the damned seat. If you don't have especially strong feelings about sitting, go ahead and make furtive half-gestures toward others if you feel like offering it to someone nearby, but if your half-gesture is rebuked, just sit down in the seat. The reason this is necessary is an elemental reason: just as nature abhors a vacuum, the el abhors empty space. When I ride the El, the unlucky people who live between the Diversey and Merchandise Mart stops have to pummel their way through the glut of people packed in the spaces near the doors, and some of them have to wait until the next train comes. If you are standing near the middle of the train car and you can see this life-or-death struggle taking place whilst a perfectly good seat is open next to you, you must be some kind of sadist, or an agoraphobe, or claustrophobe, or your knees don't bend or something. People, please, do your fellow Chicagaoans a favor, and fill that gap.


Reference Question of the Day

Today's fun reference question came not fifteen minutes after the library opened. A gentleman called and asked, "Can you use the internet?"

"Yes," I said, "I can use the internet...are you asking whether we have the internet available here?"

"No," he said, "I wanted to find out whether Mayor Daley had 50% of the popular vote in the primary election."

I thought about it for a minute. "Has the primary happened yet?" I asked.

"No, it's February 24th."

"Well, it would be kind of hard to find out if he has 50% of the public vote, because the primary election hasn't happened yet."

"Oh," he said, "oh, OK."

"So you'll want to call us back after the primary election, and then we'll know whether he has 50% of the vote," I said.

"Ok, I will." Then he hung up.


Actually, there are quite a few bloggable things happening to me...

My esteemed former colleague the Repressed Librarian wanted to know if my minty new layout meant that I would begin posting again. Well, yes, and frankly, I've wanted to put up a lot more than I have, which would be nothing, but it seems that I've got the most inspiration to blog when I'm furthest away from a computer. When I actually do sit down and think about blogging, the inspiration usually evaporates.

Oddly enough, there are quite a few blog-worthy things happening to me these days. The first you already know about: my being hired by the New Deal University Library. The spring semester started this week, so we are busy acting like librarians again.

The second thing is something that RL already knows, but the rest of my imaginary readers likely don't: Mrs. Bedheaded (who would hate being called "Mrs.", but I haven't come up with a clever handle for her yet, and she hasn't provided me with one, despite the fact that she's registered with Blogger...oops, did I just tell the world that?) is pregnant, and we found out that it's a boy. He is due May 22. We haven't come up with a name yet, but we're close.

The third thing happened just the other day. We made an offer on a townhouse in the suburbs, and the offer was accepted--no counter-offer. So I can check off another item on the list of stressful life-changing events that I've had in the past half-year. We're leaving the city, and I for one am glad to go. I've had it with crowded El trains, lugging laundry up and down four flights of stairs, parking a block away from home...it's just not charming any more. Obviously I'll still be coming into town to work at NDUL, but instead I'll be coming in and out on the super-smooth Metra. We're looking to close around my birthday, March 26.

So I've got a lot of things on my plate about which I should be providing regular updates. In the meantime, I've got the Bedheaded Mixtape operational on the sidebar. I tried a bunch of different Flash radio players, but couldn't get any of them to work right. I love how the people that create these cool web apps release them with the most beligerently non-existant instructions this side of a stereo manual. I stumbled upon the one that's there and was pleased to find that it works like any other widget...no coding necessary. It's a little buggy--it doesn't seem to buffer very well--but it does what I want it to do. I put a bunch of tunes in there just to get it started, but from now on I'll put them there as well as put a link to the track in a new post, with a little explanatory info. Here are a few that are particularly tasty:

The Besnard Lakes - "Disaster"
From The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse [Jagjaguwar, 2007]

Loney, Dear - "Saturday Waits"
From Loney, Noir [Sub Pop, 2007]

Enjoy them. I promise I'll let you know what's happening.

Buy music: The Besnard Lakes / Loney, Dear