Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010, Part 2: 5 through 1

#5 - Fake Problems - Real Ghosts Caught On Tape
(Check out my original review here)
What an unusual band. When I saw them play last week, frontman Chris Farren looked more like he should be a Justin Beiber-style tween pop star. Instead, he's playing high energy pop-ish soul punk that sounds on this album like an odd blend of Against Me! and The Gaslight Anthem (both of which are friends and occasional tour mates of the band). Fake Problems have come a long way since their folk-punk days, and are definitely a band to keep on your radar for 2011 and beyond.
Favorite track: "ADT"

#4 - The Sweet Revenge - Creatures Of Routine
(This release is available for donation from Death To False Hope Records)
(Check out my original review here)
Combining the poppier moments of Rise Against and the more anthemic moments of Strike Anywhere with the harder pop-punk of Latterman and Chinese Telephones, The Sweet Revenge are a band that I was extremely eager to put on my top 10 albums list. When I first heard Creatures Of Routine, I knew I would have to hear some very strong competition for them to be knocked out of the top 5, and that competition never came forward. I hope for nothing but the best for them in the new year, and I hope to someday see them live.
Favorite track: "Burning Pictures"

#3 - Guster - Easy Wonderful
(Check out my original review here)
A polished pop gem. That's what I called Easy Wonderful when I reviewed the album earlier this year and I stand by that now. This is one of few 2010 albums that stayed in my car's CD player for days and days at a time. After so many repeat listenings, I do take back what I said in the review about the drums. Great addition to the discography of a long running band, and my favorite of the work they've done.

#2 - Against Me! - White Crosses
(Check out my original review here)
My #2 album of the year is also the first official review I wrote for this blog. Interesting. Like Fake Problems, Against Me! started out as folk-punk before eventually ditching the acoustic guitars. Unlike Fake Problems, Against Me!'s progression unleashed a firestorm of hateful former fans. The stubbornness and closed-mindedness of those fans works against them, as they probably boycotted White Crosses and, in the process, missed out on what may be the best songs they've written. A bit more punk than the arena-rock effort of their last album, New Wave, the album rests in the delicate area between mainstream rock and punk while exploring other styles.
Favorite track: toss-up between "Because Of The Shame" and "Ache With Me"

#1 - Two Cow Garage - Sweet Saint Me
(Check out my original review here)
I'm going to be blunt: Any top 10 album list that doesn't include Two Cow Garage's Sweet Saint Me is not to be trusted. The band had the best album of 2010, as well as the best live show I've ever seen. I can't think of anything to say here that can match the album, so just go out and listen to it. Now.
Favorite track: "Lydia"

Top 10 Albums of 2010, Part 1: 10 through 6

I don't like to have my posts too long, so I split up my end-of-the-year top albums list into two posts. So here's the first post, albums 10 though 6. My tastes tend to favor the obscure at times, so you may not have heard of a few of these, but each is highly recommended by me.

#10 - Sundowner - We Chase The Waves
Check out my review here.
Chris McCaughan from The Lawrence Arms busts out a second album of alt-folk strummers. This time around it's mainly Chris on acoustic guitar and vocals, unlike his previous Sundowner album Four One Five Two which featured some strings that were pretty then but unnecessary now. Basically another contribution to the growing alt-folk scene, but a very welcome one.
Favorite track: "As The Crow Flies"

#9 - The Menzingers - Chamberlain Waits
I had heard about The Menzingers back around the time of their first album, 2007's A Lesson In The Abuse Of Information Technology. But I didn't really pay attention to them until this year, when I was checking out BlankTV's Youtube channel and found a video for "I Was Born," off this album. I was hooked. Scrappy, rough-edged pop-punk, the best kind of pop-punk there is.
Favorite track: "Chamberlain Waits"

#8 - The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang
Not as good as their last album, The '59 Sound, but much more advanced than their debut, Sink Or Swim. American Slang traded some of the soul and rock 'n roll vibe of '59 but brought in a harder sound. Honestly, looking at this album and hearing some of the name dropping in recent interviews, I am very interested to see what they come up with next (supposedly they are already working on a new one).
Favorite track: "The Diamond Church Street Choir"

#7 - Tin Horn Prayer - Get Busy Dying
A super-group of sorts, Tin Horn Prayer is comprised of members and former members of various members of Denver, CO bands (by the way, I recently decided to add Denver to my list of places I'd be willing to move to, so if anyone hears of any library jobs in that area let me know). That's pretty much all I know about this band, but I hope information about the becomes more available in 2011. These are definitely a band I hope to hear more from in the new year. A great take on the alt-americana thing, with some excellently rough vocals and some mandolin, which is not seen enough in the alternative music scene.
Favorite track: toss-up between "Better Living" and "Fighting Sleep"

#6 - Carpenter - Sea To Sky
Aside from one streaming track on some blog, I first heard these guys when they opened for Two Cow Garage. Honestly, I think I loved their set almost as much as the headliners. They're from Canada, but I hope they make more trips down to the states in 2011. Post-hardcore with a slight americana edge. They remind me a lot of Hot Water Music, which I consider a good thing.
Favorite track: "Mean Things"

Top 5 EP's/Splits of 2010 and runner-ups for Top 10 Albums

Assuming all goes right, later today I'm going to post my picks for the top ten albums of 2010 in two posts (one for 10 through 6, then one for 5 through 1). But I set strict guidelines for myself for that list, which caused me to exclude quite a few great releases (The Social Network Soundtrack, The Promise, 99 Sounds Of Revolution, Pretty Hate Machine, etc). Those guidelines also cut out any EP's or split releases, so before I share that list I wanted to share some picks for the top releases among those. (There were quite a few great digital releases through the Daytrotter Sessions, but I decided not to include those, only studio recordings with one exception).

#10 - Dan P./Toh Kay (Dan Potthast and Tomas Kalnoky) - You By Me, Vol 1
#9 - Bouncing Souls/Hot Water Music - Tour Split
#8 - John K. Samson - Provincial Road 222
#7 - Rust Belt Lights - The Truth About Us
#6 - Seahaven - Ghost 
#5 - Hot Water Music - Live In Chicago
#4 - Kelsey And The Chaos - Life Goes On
#3 - The Get Up Kids - Simple Science
#2 - Less Than Jake - TV/EP (check out my review here)
#1 - Dashboard Confessional/New Found Glory - Swiss Army Bromance

Why I Hate's singles series with their alter egos, Why I Hope
Eight Ghosts - 3 Songs About Losing
Brendan Kelly/Joe McMahon - Wasted Potential

Now for the second part of this post. I took all the albums I listened to this year and trimmed the fat, cutting away the albums that didn't measure up by comparison to others until I had a list of 20 albums. From there I carefully selected the better 10 for my upcoming Top 10 posts. But the other 10 were still good albums that I feel deserve some recognition. So, in non-ranked order here are the runner-ups to my Top 10:

Alkaline Trio - This Addiction
Barenaked Ladies - All In Good Time
Coheed & Cambria - Year Of The Black Rainbow
The Damned Things - Ironiclast
Dan Padilla - As The Ox Plows
Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle
The National - High Violet
The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - The Wages
Tim Barry - 28th & Stonewall
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Movies of 2010

My posts about the year's best music might be after the new year starts, due to some computer problems I'm currently having. One of my resolutions, though, is to be a bit better about posting in a timely manner, as well as posting more about library-related topics (which is what this blog was originally meant to be).

For now though, I present the Library Punk's list of the 10 best movies from 2010 that I saw. Sadly, there were a few that I wanted to see that I'm sure would have made the list (such as It's Kind Of A Funny Story), so this list can only contain the movies I actually saw. Not all were in theaters, and that might have effected their actual position on the list, but here are my top 10 movies of 2010:

#10 - The Other Guys 
The last movie on the list that I saw, so to be completely honest it might not have made it if it had more time to sink in. I saw it a little over a week ago, and I thought it was hysterical. A well-written, well-performed, original and unique take on the buddy-cop format. And I especially loved the financial crimes piece during the end credits (set perfectly to Rage Against The Machine's cover of Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm).

#9 - The Crazies
If memory serves me correctly, this is the first movie on the list that I saw. Saw it in theaters and loved it so much that I bought it the day it came out and watched it again twice. I've watched it at least two more times since then (though once it was shut off early due to my friends wanting to watch something else). I watched part of the Romero original and to be honest, I didn't care for it. But this version is great. A twist on the basic premise of viral zombies in which the infected stay alive and crave violence.

#8 - A Nightmare on Elm Street
I had mixed feelings walking into this one. On the one hand, I had watched the abomination that was the Friday The 13th remake and had extreme doubts. On the other hand, I loved Jackie Earl Haley's take on Rorschach in Watchmen and was more that willing to see him take on Freddy Kruger. The second hand was rewarded as I greatly enjoyed this in theaters, and it held up on a second viewing on DVD. It's more realistic than the original, mainly in the form of Freddy's burned face make-up and the portrayal of the effects of sleep deprivation.

#7 - Machete
I confess, I was among the people who saw the fake trailer during Grindhouse and immediately demanded a full movie. Something about Danny Trejo (who I always enjoy seeing in a movie) as an ex-federale with his mind set on revenge just seemed right. I also respect how Robert Rodriguez can bounce between kids movies like Spy Kids and movies like this and his half of Grindhouse. This movie is also one of VERY few times I thought the whole "trying to be 'so bad it's good'" thing has actually worked out.

#6 - Despicable Me
Adorable. That is the word I use first and foremost in describing this one. My friends have gotten sick of hearing it. But the movie is adorable. I thought the movie looked interesting and possibly good when I started seeing commercials, but I was hooked the first time I saw the clip where the little girl screams "It's so fluffy!" while shaking a stuffed unicorn. Her preceding line, "It's so fluffy I'm gonna die!" is my ringtone. My friends have gotten sick of that, too.

#5 - Kick-Ass
A unique take on the self-made superhero. Kick-Ass is like if Batman didn't know how to fight, didn't have money, was a teenager and a little bit of a coward (as much a coward as someone can be if they're still willing to fight crime). Violent, vulgar and full of laughs, this one also had one of my favorite shoot-out scenes ever (when Hit Girl has the night vision goggles before the raid on the apartment).

#4 - Scott Pilgrim Versus The World
I'm a Michael Cera fan. I've loved him in every movie I've seen him in (Youth In Revolt just barely missed making this list). So to see him in a movie adapted from a comic book and modeled after video games was pretty sweet. Music is my favorite thing in the world, and Scott Pilgrim had plenty of that, including two battles based entirely on the performance of music. Great movie.

#3 - Inception
Based on all the hype, I'm almost ashamed that I don't have this higher up on the list. It seems like the kind of movie with subtlety that takes more than one viewing to properly grasp, so maybe after I've seen it a few more times it'll take a higher position. I love the online debate about the ending (if you haven't seen it and don't know what I'm talking about, don't go looking for it because it might spoil the movie for you).

#2 - The Book Of Eli
Gary Oldman and Tom Waits are a great combination in a movie. And use "post-apocalyptic" to describe anything and you've got my attention. Then there's the dual viewpoint of faith as a means of hope for those who need it and as a tool of oppression. Bleak and miserable throughout most of its runtime with appropriate moments of brightness. Great acting, especially from Oldman, who I consider to be one of the best actors currently working.

#1 - The Social Network
You really shouldn't use it as a secondary source when talking about Facebook, but this look at the social media empire's origins is great. Some amazing music courtesy of Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor and his longtime collaborator Atticus Ross. Some great acting, especially Jesse Eisenberg's nerdy, awkward and at time vicious portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. The film has seen many comparisons to Orson Welles's own film portrayal of a media mogul and to be honest, it deserves them. The Social Network may very well be the closest my generation gets to it's own Citizen Kane.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 5 Christmas movies

There may be one more post before Christmas, but due to work and last minute holiday preparations that is not a promise. Last Friday I wrote about my favorite Christmas specials, so today I decided to list my favorite Christmas movies.

Mixed Nuts (TriStar Pictures, 1994)
A group of people at a suicide hotline on Christmas Eve. Doesn't exactly sound like a cheerful holiday romp. But despite the premise, the movie is hilarious with a few sentimental moments mixed in. Mixed Nuts has for a long time been one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, second only to The Jerk. Martin plays Phillip, who, along with Catharine (Rita Wilson) and Mrs. Munchnik (Madeline Kahn), runs Lifesavers, a suicide hotline on the verge of bankruptcy. Lifesavers is also about to be evicted from the apartment that serves as headquarters by the building's owner. While trying to find a way to save Lifesavers, Phillip also encounters Catharine's pregnant friend Gracie (Julliette Lewis), Gracie's gun-wielding, "wall artist" boyfriend Felix (Anthonly LaPaglia), dim-witted, ukelele-playing t-shirt writer Louie (Adam Sandler) and depressed, crossdressing Lifesavers client Chris (Liev Schrieber).

Scrooged (Paramount Pictures 1988)
Aside from maybe O. Henry's The Gift Of The Magi, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol seems to be the most-adapted Christmas storyline ever. As I mentioned Friday, the Disney version with Mickey Mouse is one of my two favorite adaptations. Scrooged is the other. The movie stars Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a television executive working on a live, Christmas Eve presentation of the Dickens work. Caught up too much in his work and neglecting those he cares about (and who care about him), Cross meets up with his own spirits of Christmases past, present and yet to come. A lot of sentimental moments are mixed with a lot of very funny moments, especially jokes where Cross confuses his own spririts with those of his television production. Highly recommended, though not for kids.

Elf (New Line Cinema, 2003)
An oft-quoted film about a human raised by elves. Will Ferrel plays Buddy, who, as a baby in an orphanage, crawls into Santa's gift bag on Christmas. Santa decides to give the baby to Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) to raise. Buddy is unaware of his human origin for years, until Papa Elf and Santa reveal the news to him. He decides to travel to New York City to find his biological father. The movie is hysterical at times, but also holds back for smaller laughs when appropriate, which I appreciated. Once again, there are also some sentimental moments mixed in, as all Christmas movies should be. I wasn't fond of the climax, though. I thought it was sappy and could have been done better. Overall though, a very good and very funny movie.

It's A Wonderful Life (RKO Pictures, 1946)
If Gift Of The Magi and A Christmas Carol are the most adapted and parodied Christmas works, It's A Wonderful Life is definitely in third place. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is about to jump off a bridge on Christmas Eve, which he perceives to be the only way out of the mess he's made of his business, Bailey Building and Loan, as well as with his family. An angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), shows up to convince him to reconsider. At George's request, Clarence shows him a world in which he'd never been born. Voted by the American Film Institute as the number 1 most inspiration film of all time, It's A Wonderful Life is a testament to the impact of the individual, and drives home the message that, as Clarence tells George, "No man is a failure that has friends." Of the films on this list, it has the most sentiment and least laughs, but it still has some funny moments.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Warner Brothers, 1989)
Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen Griswold (Beverly D'Angelo) return for the third Griswold vacation adventure, this time involving Clark's grandiose plans for celebrating Christmas with his family. From my perspective, this movie is the opposite of Wonderful Life in terms of sentiment to laughs ratio, falling heavily on the funny side. It's one of few films I've ever seen my dad laugh out loud during (he especially likes the sledding scene). It is also one of few films I try to see every year. As as side note, it contains what might be my favorite quote from any Christmas movie: After having a minor breakdown and cutting down a new Christmas tree, Clark tells Ellen that he simply solved a problem, "we needed a, tree..."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Punk Rock Christmas Songs

Another post is being written, but right now I wanted to share this:

It's an article I wrote a few years ago for the Triond network. I think by their terms of service, I can't post the article here, so I included the link instead. I'm not fond of the formatting. Looks like they've changed the design of the page it's posted on, which completely messed up the formatting I had. It's also an ad-heavy site, sorry.

Click the link for specific ramblings on each song, but my top 5 Christmas songs as listed are:
#5 - The Ramones, "Merry Christmas (I don't Wanna Fight Tonight)"
#4 - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "This Time Of Year"
#3 - The Vandals, "Oi To The World"
#2 - The Pogues, "A Fairytale Of New York"
#1 - The Kinks, "Father Christmas"

Apparently two years ago I was really into bands with names starting with The.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Nostalgia

I have yet to do anything fun for Christmas so today I thought I'd share some of my favorite Christma television specials. Unlike most of my friends, I wasn't really into the Rankin/Bass specials, but there are still plenty of yearly Christmas specials I used to watch. Not as many as there for Halloween, but I decided to continue my nostalgia posts for Christmas.

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
Kermit and the gang head to Fozzie's mom's house for a country family Christmas, but she's already rented her house to Doc and Sprocket (of Fraggle Rock) with plans to head to Hawaii for the holidays. They all decide to spend Christmas together, with plenty of singing and sentimental moments. The special features all 3 of the main Muppet groups, with the Fraggles spending some time with Kermit and his nephew Robin and the Sesame Street gang showing up as well. Jim Henson even makes a cameo at the end, helping Sprocket wash the dishes. I was born just too late to remember seeing it on TV, but my parents taped the original ending and my sisters and I used to watch it ever year. I don't know what happened to the tape, but fortunately for me Youtube was invented.

Nester, The Long Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)
The only Rankin/Bass I really enjoyed as a kid. Also probably the only Christmas special I enjoyed that actually went back to the origins of Christmas. The special followed Nester, a donkey with ridiculously long ears. Kinda like Rudolph, he is mocked and ridiculed for this, but does his best to hide it. Mary and Joseph find him and choose him to carry Mary to Bethlehem. It's sweet and kinda cheesy and I watched it ever year when I was younger. More recently, though, it's only been on once a year and always seems to be when I'm busy. Then again, Youtube.

The Christmas Toy
Youtube link in the title. Another Henson special. Hosted by Kermit, The Christmas Toy tells the story of Rugby, a stuffed tiger that was the Christmas Toy last year and wants to be this year's Christmas Toy as well. In his attempt, he sets free this year's Toy, Meteora, a crazy doll. Rugby also has to be careful, because if a toy is seen out of place then they basically die. There's also a cat toy named Mew. Sing the first few words of the main song and either of my sisters will immediately join in.

The Toy That Saved Christmas
The most recent of my nostalgia items, as I first saw it in high school (I saw it about a decade ago, so I think that's long ago enough to count). It's a VeggieTales production that follows a toy, Buzz-Saw Louie, that becomes sentient and wants to find the true meaning of Christmas. Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Junior Asparagus help him take on Wiley P. Nezzer (brother of Nebby k. Nezzer from Rack, Shack and Benny), the owner of the toy factory that spawned Louie. It also has the mini-feature "Oh Santa," in which Larry waits to give cookies to Santa, only to have them all taken before Santa shows up.

Mickey's Christmas Carol
I'm not gonna link this one, because I don't want Disney to sue me. A retelling of Dicken's A Christmas Carol with Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge and Mickey as Bob Cratchit. Aside from maybe Scrooged, it's my favorite version of the story.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AFI's Top 10 lists

I've been kinda neglectful of the blog lately. With the Christmas season in full swing, things have gotten busy (and tiring) at the retail store where I work, and most of whatever energy isn't used there I've been devoting to my hunt for a job in my field. I do have some plans for some posts coming up, but I wanted to make sure I got something posted today since it's been a while.

So, since most of my posts are music-centric, I decided to do a movie-based post. I was having a discussion with a friend the other day, and he was telling me that he and his girlfriend are working on watching more movies on IMDB's list of top-voted movies. That got me thinking, so for today's post I evaluated my own movie-watching history compared to the lists from the American Film Institute. I have so far seen 37 of the films on AFI's revised 10th Anniversary edition of their "100 Years...100 Films" list from 2007. I do intend to watch more in 2011. (By the way, I highly encourage you to read through AFI's "100 Years..." lists, as they are fun to read. Especially their list of top 100 movie quotes.)

AFI has also put together lists of the top 10 films in 10 different genres, so I decided to compare my history to those:

Snow White And The Seven Dwarves
Lion King
Toy Story
Beauty & The Beast
Finding Nemo

Romantic Comedy
Sleepless In Seattle


none (and I am quite ashamed that I haven't even seen Caddyshack)

The Third Man
North By Northwest
The Usual Suspects

The Wizard Of Oz
Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
It's A Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street
Field Of Dreams
Groundhog Day

2001: A Space Odyssey
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
E.T. The Extraterrestrial
The Day The Earth Stood Still
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Back To The Future

Godfather, Part 2
Pulp Fiction

Courtroom Drama


I find it interesting that Animation is the genre I've seen the most in, having seen every single one of the top 10. I guess I have my parents to thank for that, as most of them are movies I watched in my childhood.

Anyway, AFI's website has a ton of lists that are just fun to read through. And I do think I may devote 2011 to watching the entire top 100 list.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First Songs

Do you remember the first song you heard by your favorite band?

While driving back to Dunkirk after taking a friend to the Buffalo train station, I put a mix CD into my car's CD player. As I listened to the first couple songs, I realized they were the first songs I had ever heard by either band. It had nothing to do with why they were on the mix, and I didn't notice it when I made the mix a few months ago, and I didn't notice it any time I had listened to the mix previously. But for the slightly less than 6 minutes that it took to listen to those songs, it was stunningly clear that these were the songs that brought me to the rest of the output of the respective bands.

The first was "Mean Things" by Carpenter. I had heard that these guys were going to be playing with Two Cow Garage at the show I went to a while back, so I checked them out, and "Mean Things" happened to be the song I found to listen to. It ended up being the only song I heard by them before that night, but immediately after the show I checked out their new-ish album and loved it. Carpenter aren't really a favorite band, but with each listen to Sea To Sky I see more potential for them to crack the top 10, possibly even 5.

The second was "Remedy" by Hot Water Music. "Remedy" was on the second volume of Dragging The Lake, a compilation series that was the result of a team-up between Atticus Clothing and SideOneDummy Records. The song came immediately after "I'm Not Invisible" by Rocket From The Crypt, which had sightly less of an impact on me. I ended up buying the album it's from, Caution, then moving on the rest of their catalogue. Of all the songs I have by them, only one ("Trusty Chords," from the same album) has had a similar effect on me.

My point is this: The first time you hear music by an artist you later grow to love is a unique experience. I can't think of any other media that can have a similar impact. The first time you see your favorite movie can come relatively close, but when you sit down to watch a movie you have a general idea of what you're getting into. Same with a favorite book. But hearing a new song out of nowhere and getting hooked is completely different. It goes right along my usual viewpoint that music is the most personal media form/art form in terms of interaction.

Listening to those songs made me think of an episode of American Dad. The episode in mind was called "My Morning Straitjacket." Upset that his daughter has gone to a rock concert, Stan rushes off to get her. In the process, he hears the music of My Morning and becomes entranced by it, becoming an obsessive fan. While more than a little exaggerated, that is basically what it's like.

So the next time you listen to one of your favorite bands, try thinking back to the first song you heard. It's amazing how much it can refreshen your love for their music.