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Grading Pitchfork’s Top 10 Tracks of 2011

Pitchfork’s Top 100 Tracks of 2011: #10-#1

Pitchfork Media, arguably the most significant of mainstream indie tastemakers, are out again with their annual top 100 tracks of the year.  I must not subscribe to the same podcasts as Pitchfork (read: I don’t subscribe to any podcasts), because I have heard maybe 30% of these tracks.  That said, I usually like a lot of what they put in their top ten.  Let’s have a listen to what they deem to be the best of 2011 and see if we (read: I) agree with their choices.

10. DJ Khaled – I’m On One (feat. Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne)

It’s somewhat arresting that in an economic climate of high unemployment and low consumer confidence and a political climate marked by fear and malaise on both sides of the aisle that a track like this could be so popular.  Top 40 Hip Hop has for the past decade or so been dominated by in-the-club dreck that focuses primarily on what’s in the rapper’s glass or how many zeroes are located to the left of the decimal in his bank account and those concerns are well represented here.  Perhaps Drake, who is known for his self-analysis if not necessarily for his self-awareness, recognizes how socially tin-eared this all must sound because he offers something of an apology in the line “my excuse is that I’m young.”  The problem is that people far younger than him have demonstrated (especially this year) their ability to be concerned with things beyond drinking and smoking.  But perhaps the real key to all this is his admonition to “get it while you here, boy / cause all that hype don’t feel the same next year, boy.”  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, indeed. (Continued)

On Chuck Klosterman on Tim Tebow

Today on Grantland, Chuck Klosterman weighs in on Tebowmania.  I like Klosterman (at least I like Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and IV), but I’m not really sure what he’s doing here.  Or, rather, I know what he’s doing but I don’t understand why he’s doing it.  What he’s doing, essentially, is arguing that Tim Tebow’s (and NOT the Denver Broncos’) recent success is making some people uncomfortable because it calls into question the validity of their belief systems.  In other words, because somebody who doesn’t appear to have the physical skillset necessary to be a successful quarterback (but who looooves Jesus Christ) manages to nonetheless “win games,” it makes the skeptics (whether skeptical of his religious beliefs or skeptical of his long-term viability as a QB or skeptical of traditional scouting systems, probability, critical thinking, etc.) wonder if maybe everything they think they know is wrong.

To this I offer the most immature response I can muster: “balls.”  I thought about tweeting as much at @CKlosterman, but refrained.  I did ultimately tweet some reactions in his general direction and then I realized two things:

  1. Reaching out to him in this fashion is the nerd/hipster equivalent of dumb people tweeting dumb things to athletes and I should therefore be embarassed to have done so.
  2. I have a personal blog that is literally purpose built for those sorts of reactions, except without the reader’s benefit of a 140 character limit.

Let’s follow Mr. Klosterman through his reasoning.  Fair warning: this will be by leaps and bounds the longest piece on this blog (due mostly to the length of Klosterman’s piece).  TL;DR version = I think that people are sick of Tebow because 1) they’re sick of the constant evangelizing and 2) he’s given an inordinate amount of credit for the Broncos success.  For the 6,000+ word version, hit the jump.  All quoted passages are from the Grantland article. (Continued)

Dramaturgy in Video Games

Not the actual cover art.

On Tuesday, Grantland published a Tom Bissell piece discussing what he views as the significant flaw in the recently released and excellently received Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  The (major) flaw, in Bissell’s opinion, is that the game mishandles its storytelling – that it relies to a large extent on lengthy and painful exposition in PC-to-NPC interaction in order to move the story forward.

A typical scene in Skyrim might play out like this.  You have just entered a town after spending an embarrassing amount of time frolicking next to running rivers, chasing wild goats or rabbits and attempting to beat them to death with your bare hands when a NPC (that’s “non-player character” for the uninitiated) runs up to you, stands still, and begins spouting off about how he wants me to do something for him.  He does not gesticulate or emote (beyond the fluctuations in the voice acting) but instead delivers his message perfunctorily, with all the drama of a Bill Belichick press conference.  (Continued)

Leverage, Ethics and the NBA Lockout

Soviets and JFK enjoying some laughs during the Cuban Missile Crisis

In nuclear war strategy, the concept of mutually assured destruction, that if you nuke me, I’ll nuke you and we’ll all be dead, establishes an equilibrium wherein both parties recognize that to launch a first strike against the other would be suicide – as a result, nobody should launch nuclear missiles.  The recognition of this reality, as well as the interest both the USA and the USSR had in their own survival, was perhaps the most significant factor in avoiding nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War (morality issues around nuclear mass murder probably coming in a distant second place).  Because both the USA and the USSR had developed second-strike capability (i.e. the ability of the intial target to launch a nuclear volley of their own in response to the first strike), they effectively had equal leverage at the negotiating table vis-a-vis nuclear capabilities.  Neither side could effectively intimidate or bluff the other because they both knew that any nuclear strike would be mutually destructive. (Continued)

NFL = Weekly Mediocrity

I should really stop looking at the ESPN NFL power rankings.  Because I’m a Giants homer, I’ll view any position below 2nd as way too low (no matter what their record) and Sando’s constant short shrifting of Big Blue has aggravated me for as long as I can remember.  I can handle the Giants being marked below where I believe their fair rank ought to be, though: after all, nobody does “nobody believes in us” like the G-men.  Plus, as excited as I am about the way Eli Manning is playing, I can’t deny the fact that the only quality win the Giants have is against New England, with the rest coming against what I’ll sportingly refer to as “awful teams.”  So I guess I can handle the Giants coming in at 7th this week, given how unsure I am about their prospects this year. 

What I CAN’T handle is the inordinate amount of love that teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers constantly get.  I have a healthy dislike for the Steelers that has little to do with the product they put on the field.  Most of this has to do with their fanbase, whose members will spare no opportunity to claim that they’re the most devoted fanbase in the entire world.  Ignoring the impossibility of proving such a claim, who cares?  Being a fan is already an exercise in irrationality and at a certain point fandom descends to pathos.  (Continued)

Thomas Friedman

Where in the World is Thomas Friedman?

NYT Op Ed: A Long List of Suckers

Oh Thomas Friedman, your mad lib-worthy editorials are the stuff of legend. I don’t begrudge his success, but it does bother me that the guy who is arguably the most famous Op Ed writer on the Times’ staff is a pretty lousy writer, all things considered.  He’s also like that obnoxious Facebook friend who posts things like “JFK -> LHR -> SVO -> SHA -> NRT -> SFO  -> JFK” to their walls.  We get it: you take elaborately plotted flights around the world and have a consulting job no one envies.  That doesn’t have anything to do with Friedman, but he references his travel itineraries in every piece like clockwork, just so you don’t forget how jet set he is.

Yesterday, he posted an article (from India, apparently) broadly referring to the Great Game, which is what military historians (and historical militarians) call the seemingly never-ending conquest for Afghanistan by Russia and the UK.  Now, I’ll be honest: everything I know about the Great Game I learned from Wikipedia and Flashman novels, but I nevertheless feel qualified to parse through Friedman’s armchair political sociology.  Join me?

(Continued)

Paying in Gum

Minimum wage: 4.87 packs of trident layers per hour

Ticket to 3D movie in NYC: 12.08 packs of trident layers

Annual subscription to the New York Times: 204.03 packs of trident layers

Annual subscription to Playboy: 10.71 packs of trident layers

Semester at Columbia University: 14,149.06 packs of trident layers

Semester at ITT Tech – Omaha: 5,754.36 packs of trident layers

Bugatti Veyron Super Sport: 1,610,738.26 packs of trident layers

Yugo: 2,885.90 packs of trident layers

Carl Crawford’s contract: 95,302,013.40 packs of trident layers, with trident layer pack bonuses for All Star, MVP, Silver Slugger, etc

Bonus packs earned by Carl Crawford in the 2011 season: zero

Drive vs. Drive

(See here for my review of Drive, the film.)

It’s pretty much a rule in Hollywood that when you adapt a book for a movie, you’re going to fuck it up.  That’s not to say that the movie is necessarily going to suck (although it’s a pretty safe bet – see Dune for the classic example), but rather that writing allows you to do things that are difficult, if not impossible, to do on screen – the screenwriter has no choice but to fuck it up.  Written stories give us the benefit of an omnipresent narrator (or, in the case of first person narratives, a narrator who can at the very least provide the sort of internal monologue we can usually only imagine when dealing with film) who can weave important bits in and out of the narrative and who can explain what’s going on in the characters’ minds.  Obviously, movies can employ narration, but only sparingly (if there’s an example of a movie that employs the same degree of narration as a novel, I’m blissfully unaware of it).  A picture may say a thousand words, but which words?  While the written word is still subject to interpretation, the interpretation of pictures is hugely reliant on the viewer himself and therefore requires more expert handling if we’re to draw anything but perilously subjective conclusions.

(Continued)

Review: Drive

After having it recommended to me no less than half-a-dozen times by various people, I finally saw Drive this past Friday with a few friends.  My instant reaction, both during viewing and immediately after, was that this movie was “cool.”  This is a word that you’ll likely hear critics or your friends use when discussing the movie and it’s accurate: the photography is cool, the action scenes are cool, the music is (very) cool, if a little incongruent…but is the movie any good?  And, moreover, did I like it?  The more I think about these questions, the harder I find it is to answer those questions affirmatively.  Plot summary, analysis and spoilers after the jump. (Continued)

Finally. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming

M83‘s new album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, was released today – the group’s first album since 2008′s Saturdays = Youth.  I obviously haven’t spent a lot of time listening to it yet, but on first listen it feels like the best parts of Saturdays = Youth and Before the Dawn Heals Us with a lot of their respective weaknesses stripped out.  Not sure I need the vocals on “Raconte-moi Une Histoire,” but otherwise I can’t find a really obvious fault here.  I’m also very glad to see the return of a lot of the epic, ambient/shoegaze soundscapes and beautiful little interludes that for inexplicable reasons got left on the cutting room floor when Saturdays = Youth was produced (while still not jettisoning the pop anthems that made Saturdays so popular, especially with first-time listeners).  It’s on spotify, so check it out.  Favorite tracks (excluding interludes) on first listen, in order of appearance:

  • Intro
  • Midnight City
  • Wait
  • Claudia Lewis
  • New Map
  • OK Pal
  • Echoes of Mine
  • Outro