12.31.2007

Music: The Best of 2007, Steve's List, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the final posting in a series of reviews of the notable music of 2007. To see the first entry in the series, please go here. To see the second part of this review list, please go here.)

by Stephen Tringali

1) Cryptograms and Fluorescent Grey [EP] Deerhunter

Deerhunter’s Cryptograms made it to the top of my “Best of 2007, So Far,” list, and six months later, it’s remained my favorite album of 2007. However, the reasons why may not be so obvious.

As I pointed out in that previous piece: “Tracks like ‘White Ink’ remind me of the sleep therapy tapes one of my friends listens to before passing out each night. And ‘Octect,’ which begins with the sort of nature sounds found on the album’s first track, ‘Intro,’ builds for nearly eight minutes on one bass line, a shimmering guitar lick, and wailing vocals.”

Beyond all that tape hiss, ambient sound, and ethereal noise, Deerhunter show off their solid grasp of the pop melody. Though their skill for crafting such pop songs isn’t exactly apparent on the first two-thirds of Cryptograms, the record’s last third, starting with “Spring Hall Covenant,” confirms their love of catchy hooks and swooning chorus harmonies.

Combine Cryptograms with Deerhunter’s 2007 release of the EP Fluorescent Grey, and listeners will find themselves enjoying material divided evenly between noise experiments and shoegazer pop.

2) In Rainbows Radiohead

The biggest surprise that Radiohead pulled off this year wasn’t that they released an album many thought would never see the light of day until 2008. It’s that In Rainbows sounds just as good, if not better, than previous Radiohead releases.

I’m surprised at its quality only because I’m wary of favorite bands who continue writing music and producing albums for as long as Radiohead has. This is not to say it’s impossible for one band to create excellent music throughout their entire career. But let’s examine Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky, another highly anticipated 2007 release from another long-time critical darling that serves as evidence against great bands making great music for their entire careers. Let’s all try to forget that Sky Blue Sky was nominated for a Grammy.

In Rainbows tracks like “15 Step” and “Body Snatchers” set the album off to a great start, combining the glitchy drum tracks of Kid A with the robust guitars of The Bends. The remainder of the album dials down the heavy electric guitar antics and explores the possibilities of calculated melody: “Reckoner” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” are among the most hypnotic songs Radiohead has ever recorded.

(For a discussion of the controversial and innovative marketing of In Rainbows, please see: "What Did You Pay for that Radiohead Download?")

3) Let's Stay Friends Les Savy Fav

I’d never heard of Les Savy Fav before this year. What clued me into them? An Adult Swim indie rock compilation entitled Warm and Scratchy. Weird, right? Well, that compilation contained “The Equestrian,” the second track off the new Les Savy Fav album, Let’s Stay Friends. Needless to say, the track stood out among less-than-enthusiastic cuts by usually exciting rock bands like TV on the Radio, Broken Social Scene, and The Rapture. It sounded like a Fugazi-branded shotgun packed full of post-punk ecstasy that combined the fury of Repeater + 3 Songs with the catchy vocal melodies off The Argument.

Let’s Stay Friends lives up to the anticipation that “The Equestrian” created months earlier. Its riffs are among the heaviest and the grittiest listeners will hear this year. Fuzz bass roars on the opening of “Raging In The Plague Age” before giving way to a monstrous, post-punk guitar-driven chorus, and “What Would Wolves Do?” matches “The Equestrian” for the manner in which it blends pop crooning with post-punk teeth-baring.

4) Good Bad Not Evil The Black Lips

The Black Lips have had a big year — bigger, perhaps, than any other band for the way they began 2007 with very little press and ended it with more than they ever dreamed. A live release, Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, got their year off to a good start, cementing their power to transform lackadaisical studio recordings into foot-stomping punk-rock anthems. (For a short review of Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, please go here. For general information on the band, please see "Experience The Black Lips.")

Before the year’s end, the Black Lips managed to snag a spot performing on NBC's Late Night with Conan O’Brien and to sign a movie deal. In between publicity moves, the band released their best album to date, Good Bad Not Evil. A more concentrated effort than their previous albums, Good Bad Not Evil still maintains the Black Lips’ dirty signature with odes to their childhood (“Bad Kids”) and enough sloppy rockers (“O Katrina!,” “It Feels Alright,” “Step Right Up,” and “Cold Hands”) to keep the flower punk fans content for some time.

(To see a photo essay of The Black Lips' appearance in Washington, D.C. in March of 2007, please go here.)

5) Boxer The National

The National have an interesting sound: it seems familiar but somehow still unique. The band plows through their songs with the deliberation of a folk group. The simplicity of their songwriting also matches the folk distinction. But lead singer Matt Berninger’s delivery suggests post-punk a la Joy Division.

Many reviews have attempted to deconstruct The National’s sound, so it’s pointless to continue. What’s most important here is not whether the band’s sound is unique but why their latest album is so arresting, despite the fact that the band’s music sounds like a muted thunderclap and Berninger’s vocals sound rather plaintive and uninterested. The answer may be that within that hushed expression there is a hidden catch — the very reason that so many people love Joy Division or The Smiths or even Radiohead. Misery loves company.

(To see the second part of this year-end review list, please go here or scroll down.)

(Promotional photo of Deerhunter by Kasey Price for Kranky Records. To see the video for Deerhunter's "Oceans" from Cryptograms, please check below.)







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Music: The Best of 2007, Steve's List, Part II

(Editor's Note: This is the second part of a year-end list of the best music of 2007. To see the first part of the list, please go here. These postings are the final reviews of the notable music of 2007, a nine-part opus. To see the full opus of reviews from the beginning, please go here.)

by Stephen Tringali


6) Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga Spoon

Earlier this year, I wrote that this Spoon album was solid but hardly spectacular. Months after writing that, I realized just how wrong I was. I found Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga popping up on my music player more frequently. I found myself recommending the album to friends. I found myself astonished that an album might creep up on me like this. Perhaps that’s because I had written Spoon off as a band with an interesting concept — minimalist pop music utilizing repetitive elements — that produced only a handful of interesting songs.

I admit that I was very wrong. Plenty of songs on this album — “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “The Underdog,” and “Black Like Me” — prove that Spoon continues to expand on their original concepts, broaden their soundscapes and textures, and ultimately improve their pop songwriting skills.

7) Icky Thump The White Stripes

The White Stripes’ newest album returns to their basic songwriting intentions — so much so that their last two albums, Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan, sound like nauseating, self-indulgent experiments. But what The White Stripes lost in excessive 1970s classic rock flair, they gained in instrumentation.

On “I’m Slowly Turning Into You,” guitarist Jack White introduces organ into his blues-rock meets proto-punk mixture. Other instruments, including bagpipes and mandolin, make appearances. They might suggest a contradiction in the simple blues-rock formula that The Stripes conceived on their self-titled debut, but Icky Thump comes closer to approximating their original ideal than any Stripes album since White Blood Cells.

(For a full review of Icky Thump, please go here.)

8) The Reminder Feist

Leslie Feist’s songwriting skills are often overshadowed by the musical collective that is Broken Social Scene. It’s true that she is a part of that group; her backing vocals can be heard prominently on “Our Faces Split the Coast in Half.” But her own albums stand alone, without the aid of Broken Social Scene as a crutch.

The Reminder, her latest release, is an impassioned folk rock record that is both touching (“So Sorry” and “The Limit To Your Love”) and enlivening (“Sea Lion” and “Past In Present”).

(For another short review of The Reminder, please go here.)

9) Sound of Silver LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy rocked a lot of press this year, gaining much-deserved accolades from the likes of Rolling Stone and the Grammys. What I can’t understand, however, is why “All My Friends” is being considered the best song off this record. My votes for best songs by LCD Soundsystem this year (because it’s pretty much a given that the album as a whole rocks): “North American Scum” and “New York I Love You.”

(For another short review of Sound of Silver, please go here.)

10) Wild Mountain Nation Blitzen Trapper

Like the Black Lips, Blitzen Trapper has established their rock and roll credentials by reworking older rock traditions. But instead of combining 1950s rockabilly with punk rock, Blitzen Trapper have mined the acid rock of the Grateful Dead and melded it to the garage rock of Dinosaur Jr. and Uncle Tupelo.

To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please see:

(To see the first part of this entry, please go here. To see the first review in this series, please go here.)

(Promotional photo of Spoon from Merge Records. To see Spoon performing "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb" from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga on NBC's Saturday Night Live, please check below.)







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12.30.2007

Music: The Best of 2007, Vincent's List

(Editor's Note: This is the eighth part of series of reviews of the notable music of 2007. To see the previous entry in the series, please go here.)

by Vincent Lee

1) In Rainbows Radiohead
The best album Radiohead has done since OK Computer, consequently the best album anyone has done this year. (For a discussion of the controversial and innovative marketing of In Rainbows, please see: "What Did You Pay for that Radiohead Download?")

2) Chrome Dreams II Neil Young
An unneccessary sequel to a much greater predecessor. Nonetheless, on “Hidden Path” Young did something few Neil Young fans saw coming: Write a new song that actually compares to the '70's Crazy Horse days. “Ordinary People” has long been regarded as the best song Young never released, and at long last it is finally here. (For a full review of Chrome Dreams II, please go here.)

3) Icky Thump The White Stripes
After a bipolar album, with random, and, at times, unnecessary experimentation, Icky Thump is a tremendous comeback that offers all the things that make the White Stripes great and more. (For a full review of Icky Thump, please go here.)

4) Sky Blue Sky Wilco
No sonic noise. No bizarre robotic voice. No “Less than what you think.” It's not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born. Probably not even as good as Being There. However, it is still a remarkable album that is very solid and pleasurable the entire way through. (For a full review of Sky Blue Sky with a different take, please check here.)

5) Two Gallants Two Gallants
This is an album of uncharacteristically shorter songs that's nothing short of great. This band has yet to write a bad song. (For more background on the band and this release, please see "Music: Two Gallants, in the Throes of Folk Blues.")

6) Into the Wild Soundtrack Eddie Vedder
For years, fans of Pearl Jam have been yearning for frontman Eddie Vedder to depart and make a solo album. Though not quite what most expected, this offering not only fits perfectly with the movie and the mood, but is superb as a stand alone album. Unfortunately, the brevity of the album leaves listeners yearning for much more.

7) Magic Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
In comparison to the rest of Springsteen's work, this is an enormous let down. On his seemingly final E Street band album, he runs away from the storytelling that truly made him great in the earlier days with this band Yet, it's still Springsteen, meaning it's still better than ninety five percent of the garbage out there. “ Terry's Song” (a hidden bonus track on the CD release) alone could make the worst album a standout.

8)
The Reminder Feist
Despite the constant play of the ever irritating “1,2,3,4” on those ipod commercials, there really are other songs on the album. Feist balances strong lyrics and one of the best voices around to produce a very good record. (For another short review of The Reminder, please go here.)

9)
Lifeline Ben Harper
It doesn't seem like Ben Harper will ever take a break. He doesn't find anything particularly inventive this time, but it is still a wonderfully catchy album, solid the entire way through.

10)
Cassadaga Bright Eyes
After several albums jumping around from style to style, on Cassadaga, Bright Eyes (real name: Conor Oberst) seems to relax a bit. The result is a strong folk album with his hallmark creative lyrics. (For background on the anti-war sentiments of Bright Eyes, please see "The Paltry Anti-War Songbook on Iraq.")

To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please see:

(To see the next review in this series, please go here.)

(Photo of Radiohead in concert by stringbot of Chicago, IL, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see Radiohead performing "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" from In Rainbows at a concert in Wolverhampton, U.K., in 2006, please check below.)








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12.29.2007

Music: The Favorites of 2007, Hilary’s List

(Editor's Note: This is the seventh part of a series reviewing the notable music of 2007. To see the previous posting in the series, please go here. Please note, these are not listed in any particular order.)

by Hilary Crowe

Devendra Banhart – Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
Easily the most coherent of Banhart’s conceptual compositions, the sensuous singer-songwriter considered naming the album Jewish Anarchy for a time before its release. The remnants of such inspiration are evident in the track “Shabop Shalom,” which exalts an Israeli siren through humorous metaphors and witty wordplay, both trademarks in Banhart’s work.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – The Is Is
In their latest release, the tenacious trio has returned to the grit and guts of Fever to Tell but kept the epic-yet-soft melodies of Show Your Bones. Karen O’s visceral vocals make a gravelly, gristly comeback, battling with the crescendo and decrescendo of Nick Zinner’s mechanical reverb-rattled riffs, all while Brian Chase keeps time, and the hearts of many fans, thumping along for the entirety of the EP’s too-short 17 minutes. (For a full review of The Is Is, please go here.)

The Black Lips Good Bad Not Evil
Following quickly on the heels of Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, The Black Lips’ new album retains and expands upon their retro-rockabilly and garage rock fusion delivered with the devilish charm for which these boys are known. The only difference is that the self-produced album has a cleaner production to bring their songwriting, so the band says, to the fore. (For a short review of the Black Lips' other 2007 release Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, please go here. For general information on the band, please see "Experience The Black Lips.")

Pissed Jeans Hope for Men
On the band’s new album, Pissed Jeans seems to have matured, just a bit. Mention of bodily fluids and the exchange of which are absent on the album, the juvenile joke seeming to have grown old. However, their sound is the same – more post-adolescent, frustrated males growling a la The Dead Boys steeped in The Stooges' “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” with the seething intensity of later Black Flag and a heavy metal quality, but with more vamp than camp.

Various Artists I’m Not There [Soundtrack]
It’s no secret that Bob Dylan was a phenomenal songwriter before the millennium, but as a singer, for some, Dylan was found wanting. In the soundtrack accompanying Todd Haynes’ nonlinear, loose biopic of the living legend, the title track is officially released for the first time and is also covered by Sonic Youth. On a variety of other cuts, Iron and Wine, Calexico, Jeff Tweedy, and one of the films’ stars, Charlotte Gainsbourg, lend their voices as vehicles for Dylan’s genius to shine with new vitality.

M.I.A. Kala
The Sri Lankan-Londoner-Brooklynite is already well-known for her danceable, politically charged mash-ups of tribal music, hip hop and rhymes despite Kala being only her second release. Easily the best song on the album, “Paper Planes” is an incendiary hit for the lady MC, but “20 Dollar Bill” is the most interesting: M.I.A. (real name: Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam) sleepily sings the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” over the electrified melody of New Order’s “Blue Monday.”

Deerhunter Cryptograms
Singer Bradford Cox’ stage antics and shocking confessions, both on stage via lyrics and offstage via the band’s blog, belie the hooligans from Hotlanta’s latest musical masterpiece. A testament to the band’s uncanny ability to churn out progressive noise rock with pop sensibilities and ambient melodies, Cryptograms has finally won these guys some positive attention. (For another short review of Cryptograms, please go here.)

To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please see:

(To see the next review in the series, please go here.)

(Photo of Devendra Banhart by jabzoog of New York City via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see the video for "Seahorse" by Devendra Banhart from Smoky Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, please check below.)








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12.28.2007

Music: The Most Interesting of 2007, Jeff's List

(Editor's Note: This is the sixth part of a series reviewing the notable music of 2007. To see the previous posting in the series, please go here.)

by Jeff Siegel

1) Nick Lowe – At My Age
We should all age like that. (To see a full review of At My Age, please go here.)

2) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Living with the Living
I dare a radio station to play a cut from this. (To read an ode to Ted Leo & The Pharmacists and other under-appreciated bands, please see the essay "It's Still Rock 'n Roll to Me," which also features a video of the band performing "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.")

3) Heavy Trash – Going Way Out with Heavy Trash
Three chords that sound exactly the way the Supreme Being intended.

4) The Fratellis – Costello Music
I don’t know that it’s any good, but I sure like listening to it.

5) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
These guys could be really, really, really good. (For a full review of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, please go here.)

6) The Pipettes
– We are the Pipettes
Are they serious? Who knows? Who cares?

7) Fountains of Wayne – Traffic and Weather
Not their best, but still better than almost anything or anyone else.

To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please see:

(To see the next review in the series, please go here.)

(Promotional photo of Nick Lowe by Dan Burn-Forti for Yep Roc Records. To see Nick Lowe performing "I Trained Her to Love Me" from At My Age on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, please check below.)







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iVoryTowerz Radio: Goodbye 2007

As the days of 2007 wane, the underground podcast celebrates with plenty of new music, as we ring out the old and head toward the new year. Come along for the ride as we cover almost 40 years of music with sidetrips into alternative, folk, soul, and rhythm and blues, not to mention the usual stops for new wave, punk and metal. And of course, we pose an important musical question for 2008. Come along for the year-end party and enjoy!


(To download or stream this podcast, click here.)


Playlist

"Seven O'Clock News/Silent Night" by Simon & Garfunkel
"Auld Lang Syne" by James Taylor
“Secular Songs" by Joan Armatrading
"Friend of Mine" by Lily Allen
"Something's Changed" by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
"Stone Survivor" by Irma Thomas
“I Just Want to Celebrate” by Rare Earth
“Funky Chick” by Lefties Soul Connection
“Early in the Morning” by Charles Brown
"Fever" by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes
Cover Me: "Gimme Shelter" by Patti Smith
Jeff’s New Wave: “Take the Cash (K.A.S.H.)” by Wreckless Eric
Rick's Metal Shoppe: “Money” by Serj Tankian
"Alligator" [Choir Version] by Grizzly Bear (with Zach Condon/Beirut, Dave Longstreth, and Amber Coffman)
"The Wind Itself" by Function
"Strange Lights" by Deerhunter
"(What’s so Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?" by Elvis Costello & Clover

(Mp3 Runs - 1:22:37; 76 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(The photo is by Jpeg Jedi of Crivitz, WI via Flickr using a Creative Commons License.)




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12.27.2007

Music: The Best of 2007, Rick's List

(Editor's Note: This is the fifth part in a series of lists reviewing the notable music of 2007. To see the beginning of the series, please go here.)

by Rick Rockwell

1) Radiohead – In Rainbows
The leaders of alternative pack, Radiohead have produced a moody, edgy soundtrack for our disturbed times. This is every bit the equal of 1997's masterpiece, OK Computer. (For a discussion of the controversial and innovative marketing of In Rainbows, please see: "What Did You Pay for that Radiohead Download?")

2) Foo Fighters – Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Dave Grohl and his band seem to improve on each record. The eclecticism and depth of this release may convince some (finally) that Grohl and the Foos are every bit equal to that little band that gave him his big break: Nirvana.

3) Bruce Springsteen & The E St. Band
– Magic
With the best backing band in the world, how can Springsteen not succeed? This is head and shoulders better than The Rising from 2002. With songs like "Radio Nowhere" and "Last to Die," Springsteen proves protest music is not dead.

4) The White Stripes – Icky Thump
The sixth release from the Detroit duo continues to demonstrate that these garage rockers can inject as much adrenaline into a song as bands with three times the personnel. The White Stripes show rock and blues delivered with a devilish grin doesn't get old. (For a full review of Icky Thump, please go here.)

5) Rush – Snakes & Arrows
Some folks still don't get this group's blend of progressive rock with metallic edges, even after 37 years of recording. Snakes & Arrows is easily the Canadian band's best in more than a decade. Check out the hypnotic pull of "Spindrift," for one of the best examples.

6)
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
With a definitive radio breakthrough in 2007 behind the FM single "The Underdog," Spoon may no longer be considered cutting edge by some. No matter. This is the band's most accessible release to date, filled with plenty of major chord rocking nuggets. (For a full review of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, please go here.)

7) Wilco
– Sky Blue Sky
Jeff Tweedy, Wilco's leader, wants to sound like a 21st Century version of Bob Dylan and he's assembled the group to make it happen. Not much noisy experimentation here, as in the past. Think of this as Wilco's version of Dylan & The Band working on The Basement Tapes. (For a full review of Sky Blue Sky with a different take, please check here.)

8) Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II
This is a throwback release from Young, a pastiche of pieces that feature his electric side and many of these cuts have actually been in the vault for years. Still, the effort crackles. This is easily Young's best release in the past decade. (For a full review of Chrome Dreams II, please go here.)

9) Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
Take one part Led Zeppelin and one part bluegrass country via Union Station. Mix liberally. (Shake. Don't stir.) The result is a surprisingly smooth blend. The bossa nova stylings of the duo's cover of "Gone Gone Gone (Done Me Wrong)" go down like a vodka martini should.

10) Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Living with the Living
These D.C. punkers are still flying under the radar, which is a shame. This release has the wattage of a lightning bolt. For all those who are rightfully mesmerized by The Hives' single, "Tick Tick Boom" try Leo & The Pharmacists' "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb." instead. Thrilling. (To read an ode to Ted Leo & The Pharmacists and other under-appreciated bands, please see the essay "It's Still Rock 'n Roll to Me," which also features a video of "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.")

To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please check:

(To see the next review in the series, please go here.)

(Photo of Radiohead performing in San Diego by Travis Hornung of Encinitas, CA via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see a video of Radiohead performing "Jigsaw Falling into Place" from In Rainbows on a live webcast, please check below.)







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Rocky's Football Corner, 12.26.2007

by Rick Rockwell

The National Football League (NFL) got smart late today.

In an unprecedented move, the league announced that Saturday’s game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants would be televised on three separate television networks.

This is not just due to the interest and hype surrounding the game (some fans of the Giants are saying the game is like a miniature version of the Super Bowl). This is about the NFL bowing to pressure, but also thinking creatively in its feud with the cable television industry.

Until late on Wednesday, the league was about to cablecast a historic game but about 60 percent of the league’s fans nationwide would not have been able to see the telecast. The league has made various entreaties to the cable cartel, but so far those offers were turned down, at the fans’ expense. But in the spirit of giving, the league has come up with a unique solution: give the game away. This is how you build support. Not only was this the smart public relations move, it was the right thing to do.

Why all this interest? Well, for those who haven’t been tuned in this season, the Patriots are trying to become the first team with a perfect record in a 16-game NFL season. Only the Giants stand in the way. The inconsistent, but talented Giants, are hurting, but with a huge national audience awaiting, the Giants could be enticed into giving the Patriots a game, even though it doesn’t help (and some would argue it might hurt) the Giants’ playoff prospects.

As football analyst John Madden noted weeks ago, somehow the league had to figure out a way for this game to go to the widest possible audience.

So now the Patriots’ quest for perfection will be beamed to America via NBC, CBS, and the league’s NFL Network. (The broadcast networks will not pay for the additional game rights and all three networks will get to sell and profit from the commercials in an amicable split.)

This solution breaks the logjam between league and cable cartel, at least for now. This column has written many times about this dispute, going back more than a year. What it boils down to is the cable cartel wants to charge exorbitant rates for the NFL Network and put it on specialized sports tiers. Such arrangements keep the network, which broadcasts eight regular season games, from being seen by most football fans.

And the mess isn’t entirely fixed. The NFL Network holds the exclusive rights to the Texas Bowl (Houston vs. Texas Christian University), the Insight Bowl (Indiana vs. Oklahoma State), and the Senior Bowl, a college all-star game. How college fans will gain access to those games remains undetermined. Last year, the NFL managed to negotiate limited cable access to its network with the cable cartel to allow broad distribution of the league’s coverage of the college games. So far, this year, the cable cartel hasn’t been willing to compromise.

On all these issues, the league had offered to take the dispute to binding legal arbitration. But the cable cartel dismissed that offer.

That uncompromising position is why the NFL called today’s end-run.

The league also bowed to pressure. Earlier this month, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) warned that the league’s anti-trust exemption may be at issue unless the NFL found a way to resolve the dispute. Some also credit the work of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) who sent a letter to both the league and the lobbying group for the cable industry. Kerry has pressed on this issue both publicly and privately. Of course, Leahy and Kerry have a vested interest as the Patriots are from their region. But credit where credit is due: their pressure did get the league moving.

This time the politicians did more than spout hot air. They actually moved the league to give the fans a gift. And even if this dispute isn’t over, we are thankful for the short-term solution.

(Editor’s Note: The original rant on the NFL Network that occupied this space was pulled as it was filed almost simultaneously with the league’s announcement. The original was here for under 30 minutes, and this update is in keeping with today’s changing news on this topic.)

Week 17 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Patriots at Giants (Patriots)
Upset Special: Saints at Bears (Bears)
Titans at Colts (Titans)
Vikings at Broncos (Broncos)
Rams at Cardinals (Cardinals)
Chiefs at Jets (Jets)
Bills at Eagles (Eagles)
49ers at Browns (Browns)
Bengals at Dolphins (Dolphins)
Steelers at Ravens (Steelers)
Panthers at Buccaneers (Panthers)
Jaguars at Texans (Texans)
Cowboys at Washington (Washington)
Lions at Packers (Packers)
Chargers at Raiders (Chargers)
Seahawks at Falcons (Falcons)

Last Week: .750
This Season: .667


For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:












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12.26.2007

The Forman-Gallup-iVoryTowerz 2007 Music Poll

(Editor's Note: This is the fourth part in a series of lists reviewing the top music of 2007. Characteristically, Robin has taken the anarchist approach and not only refrained from picking full CD releases but also she's turned the form of the year-end list inside-out in her own inimitable way. To see the preceding part in the series, please go here.)

by Robin Forman

While conducting the Forman-Gallup-iVoryTowerz 2007 Music Poll, several of those surveyed noted that 2007 was a rather unmemorable year in mainstream music. However, one issue did emerge in the polling and that was despite its rather mundane nature, 2007 seemed to be the year of Kanye West.* West holds down three spots in the year-end poll. For those who track the legitimacy of such polls, the Forman-Gallup-iVoryTowerz 2007 Music Poll was conducted scientifically (although heavily weighted toward the opinion of the poll's founder, Robin Forman) and using high-tech and modern polling techniques. (The poll reflects the results of requests from two separate e-mail accounts and a mass message requesting opinions on Facebook – although this last method did fail to collect much essential data.)

And so without further delay, the results of the Forman-Gallup-iVoryTowerz 2007 Music Poll of the best songs of the year:

  1. "Apologize" by Kanye West and One Republic*
  2. "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse
  3. "Stronger" by Kanye West
  4. "Umbrella" by Rhianna
  5. "1, 2, 3, 4" by Feist
  6. "Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani
  7. "This Ain't a Scene it's an Arms Race" by Fall Out Boy
  8. "Cold Hard Sun" by Eddie Vedder*
  9. "What I've Done" by Linkin Park
  10. "Girlfriend" by Avril Livigne
  11. "The Way I Are" by Kanye West*
  12. "What Comes Around Comes Around" by Justin Timberlake
  13. "Say It Right" by Nellie Furtado
  14. "Crank That" by Soulja Boy
  15. "Don't Matter" by Akon
To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please check:
(To read the next post in the series, please go here.)

*Please note: inaccuracies are included in this original posting. Please see the comments for corrections.

(Photo of Kanye West in concert by Samira Khan of Toronto, Canada via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see Kanye West's video for "Stronger" – featuring Daft Punk – please check below.)







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12.23.2007

Holiday Spirit

This blog will be closed for the seasonal holidays for the next few days. Please enjoy this special time with family and friends. We wish you all the best during this wonderful time of year. To tide you over during the holiday break, a poem, and of course, some seasonal music. Happy Holidays!



Toward the Winter Solstice
(excerpt)

…Though a potpourri,

Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,

We all are conscious of the time of year;

We all enjoy its colorful displays,

And keep some festival that mitigates,

The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

– Timothy Steele (2006)

(And now, please enjoy a rousing version of "Merry Christmas Baby" from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien by checking out the video below.)



(Photo by cornemaart of the Netherlands via stock.xchng.)








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12.22.2007

Music: The Tops for 2007, A Guest's View

(Editor's Note: This is the third part of a series of reviews looking at the best music of 2007. To see the previous part, please click here. Today, we are graced with the views of guest blogger Justin Wilder, who is also a member of the band MHR.)

by Justin Wilder*
Special to iVoryTowerz

1) Radiohead – In Rainbows
Two discs of beautifully haunting music. What else would you expect from Radiohead? It’s basically a greatest hits album for the band, comprised of tracks that failed to make the cut on previous albums but have been played on the road for years. It's just a well-built record all around.
Best tracks: “Weird fishes/Arpeggi,” “Videotape,” “Bodysnatchers.”
(For a discussion of the controversial and innovative marketing of In Rainbows, please see: "What Did You Pay for that Radiohead Download?")

2) Kings of Leon – Because Of The Times
If this album were eight to ten songs instead of 13, it would be one of the best albums of the last ten years. Vocalist/guitarist Caleb Followill treats his words like cigarette butts: he pounds them into the dirt with his howlin’ vocals.
Best tracks: “On Call,” “McFearless,” “My Party,” “Arizona.”

3) The White StripesIcky Thump
Although not as good as their previous two releases, Icky Thump is still The White Stripes making songs that shake my bones. “Rag And Bone” is a song that has the gritty swagger of early White Stripes records, but it adds the humor that Jack White is able to infuse into his more recent lyrics. If you can, buy the vinyl and listen to the different arrangements of some of the songs.
Best tracks: “Rag And Bone,” “Bone Broke,” “Effect And Cause,” “Icky Thump.”
(For a full review of Icky Thump, please go here.)

4) Yeah Yeah YeahsThe Is Is [EP ]
Five songs of punk rock lust. If only they had made a full album of songs this strong.
Best Tracks: All its five songs are pretty strong.
(For a full review of The Is Is, please go here.)

5) Wooden ShjipsWooden Shjips
Five songs. Thirty-three minutes. Reverb soakage. Distorted organs. Crunchy guitar solos. Mmmm sexy. A mix of Velvet Underground, The Doors and Brian Jonestown Massacre. The lyrics are just the icing on a trippy cake.
Best Tracks: “We Ask You To Ride,” “Shine Like Suns.”

6) GrindermanGrinderman
No one in the world liked this record. Shame on you, world. Nick Cave should win an Oscar for greatest mustache. His low growl on songs like “No Pussy Blues” charges up any fun-filled evening.
Best Tracks: “No Pussy Blues,” “Depth Charge Ethel,” “I Don't Need You (To Set Me Free).”

7) WilcoSky Blue Sky
I can imagine that it would be hard for anyone who loved the last two great Wilco records, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, to accept Sky Blue Sky for what it is: a straight forward, mellow, jam band recording. Wilco, which had been working toward becoming America's Radiohead or the next Sonic Youth, suddenly switch directions and started heading toward The Grateful Dead. “Impossible Germany” is the best example of this transformation. There are some great songs, and some just above average tracks on this record, but the lyrical ability of Jeff Tweedy always interests me — even when the music doesn't. Search for the B-sides of this record because they will fill in the cracks for you if this wasn't immediately your favorite record.
Best Tracks: “Sky Blue Sky,” “You Are My Face,” “Side With The Seeds,” “Let’s Not Get Carried Away” (B-side).
(For a full review of Sky Blue Sky with a different take, please check here.)

8) LCD SoundsystemSound Of Silver
Discotechnojamz from studio whiz James Murphy. Enough said? No. Hooks and beats, hooks and beats — that’s all there is on this record.
Best Tracks: “North American Scum,” “All My Friends,” “Watch The Tapes.”
(For another short review of Sound of Silver, please go here.)

9) The Black LipsGood Bad Not Evil
Wow. One of the greatest live experiences on the planet. Some of the greatest song writing on the planet. Well, not exactly. But catchy hooks over no bullshit guitar riffs sets this punk band apart from the rest.
Best Tracks: “I Saw A Ghost (Lean),” “Bad Kids,” “Cold Hands,” “O Katrina!”
(For a short review of the Black Lips' other 2007 release Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, please go here. For general information on the band, please see "Experience The Black Lips.")

10) Saul WilliamsThe Inevitable Rise and Liberation Of Niggy Tardust
The album title says it all, I think. If you enjoy this record, you should enjoy the Washington D.C.-based The Drugstore Cowboys.
Best Tracks: “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “WTF!”

*Justin Wilder is a student at American University and a writer for the blog, Kill Film Students.

To sample some of the other reviews in this series, please go to:

(To see the next review in the series, please go here.)

(The cover graphic of Radiohead's In Rainbows is from ATO Music Group, the distributors of the band's latest release. To see a video of Radiohead performing "Bodysnatchers" from In Rainbows on a live webcast, please check below.)







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12.21.2007

Music: The Tops for 2007, Caitlin's List

(Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of posts reviewing the best music of 2007. For the first part of the series, please go here.)

by Caitlin Servilio


1. Rogue WaveAsleep At Heaven’s Gate
Beautiful space pop, eye-watering harmonies and more esoteric lyrics than even online message-boarders could interpret. This gorgeous release is the latest release from remarkably consistent Rogue Wave, whose lack of any sophomore or junior slump amazes and delights me. The way the ethereal, plaintive strains of Zach Rogue give way to rousing rock choruses on such tracks as “Lake Michigan” and “Harmonium,” and the pretty but edgy pop of “Own Your Own Home” and “Phonytown” more than makes up for the fact that I have no idea what any of it means. (Please go here, for another short review of Asleep at Heaven's Gate.)

2. Josh RitterThe Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
I had a chance to interview the always-charming Josh Ritter for The Eagle, American University's student newspaper, this semester, as well as see him in concert. This confirmed what I have always suspected — that Ritter is probably the most lovable artist in contemporary music. Pausing during crowd favorites such as “Kathleeen” to tell pointless-but-funny stories about potatoes or being in love with married women twice his age, the folk-rocker from Idaho bounced happily around the stage. He has a lot to be happy about — his new release, Historical Conquests, is his most dynamic and spontaneous yet, without sacrificing his trademark craftsmanship and literary songwriting. (Please go here, for another short review of The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter.)

3. The Black LipsGood Bad Not Evil
I’m sure other writers on this blog, more attuned than I to the punk scene, will mention the Black Lips on their lists, so I’ll keep this short — the new release from these hillbilly punk rockers is energetic, ambitious (for them), and most of all, an extremely good time. I’d pick it up right away if I were you. (For a short review of the Black Lips' other 2007 release Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo, please go here. For general information on the band, please see "Experience The Black Lips.")

4. Ahleuchatistas — Even In the Midst
I’m not usually much for instrumental music, but the sheer staggering skill of these three musicians from North Carolina — guitar, bass, and drums—won me over. It’s impossible not to marvel at what the trio can do with these instruments, whether the end result is beautiful or discordant. Standouts on the math-rock (don’t ask me exactly what that genre name means) album include “Elegant Proof” and “The Bears of Cantabria Shall Sleep No More.” And if you pick up the CD itself, prepare to be wowed by its album art.

5. The Apples In Stereo — New Magnetic Wonder
Half of this album sounds like a compilation of some 1960s, Beatles-plus-Beach Boys hybrid band’s greatest hits. The other half is experimental tracks full of vocoder, mellotron, and synth — more ambitious and in some cases more successful: “Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4” is the best track.

6. Beirut — The Flying Club Cup
On this album, Zach Condon, the 20-year-old multi-instrumental prodigy who is all of Beirut, proves he doesn’t have to be in the Old Country to craft yearning, Balkan-influenced, emotional ballads and marches. Check out “Cherbourg” and “La Banlieue.”

7. Bishop AllenThe Broken String
Bishop Allen, with its bouncy brand of indie pop, makes it impossible not bob along to the unpretentious melodies on The Broken String. The singles “Rain” and “Click Click Click Click” are ridiculously catchy, and even the more serious tracks, like “The Monitor” and “Choose Again” are likely to stick in your head for hours. A lovely surprise right at the end is “The News From Your Bed,” the sunshiny piano ambiance contrasts with its story of loneliness and regret. (For a brief September concert review of Bishop Allen, please go here. For another short review of the band's performance in D.C. in April, please go here.)

8. Small Sins — Mood Swings
Whether recording smoothly blended, hushed vocals and synth beats for a studio album or rocking out to exactly the same songs in concert, Small Sins is more than worth the modest amount you’ll play for the still up-and-coming Canadian brainchild of Thomas D’Arcy. Just listen to “On The Line” or “What Your Baby’s Been Doing” and you’ll be hooked.

9. The ShinsWincing the Night Away
This quintessential indie band, which effectively put indie rock on the map for thousands of American kids, goes for a bigger, more echoing sound on their newest release. Tracks like “Turn on Me,” “Girl Sailor,” and “Sea Legs” show a certain growth and progress since “Chutes Too Narrow,” but unfortunately, in some cases, not enough. (For background on The Shins and the band's influence on indie rock, please go here.)

(To see the first review list in this series, please go here. To see the next review in the series, please go here.)

(Promotional photo of Rogue Wave from Brushfire Records. To see the video for Rogue Wave's "Lake Michigan," please check below.)








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