Monday, December 31, 2007

My '07 Year in Review

I guess 2007 wasn't eventful enough - so something had to happen to put the final kick in what was a memorable year, both good and bad. On December 24, knowing I was going to eat a 4000 plus calorie steak dinner at the 360 steak house in Harrah's (spending Christmas Eve at a casino just seemed appropriate), I decided to work out. The result...six hours later, it took me 20 minutes to climb the stairs to my apartment. I couldn't go to dinner and the day after Christmas, I had to have a STAT MRI. The result...a protruding disk (basically a slipped disk). Physical therapy right now seems like the best option, but the doctor hasn't ruled out lumbar fusion surgery. I know people have had disk operations before, much younger than me, but I hope to avoid it. I used to work with doctors, and most doctors told me to avoid surgery on three specific areas: the knee, the back and the sinuses.

If I had surgery, I could be out for almost three months. My friend, Tracy, who had a far more catastrophic 2007, just lost her job because of an auto accident. In this time of job insecurity, it's almost terrifying to think that you're one auto accident, one bad lift from a stupid gym machine away from losing everything. My mom told me I probably shouldn't have purchased a condo on the third floor with no elevators. I should have purchased a ranch house. First off, the condo was the only thing I can afford. Secondly, while yes, these insecurities are terrifying, you can't let fear map out your life.

Before I get to the real important stuff (my favorite albums of the year) - here are my top five personal events in 2007:
5. Got a chance to see a few amazing concerts this year. TV on the Radio in Kansas City. The Hold Steady and the Heartless Bastards at Sokol. Wilco and Andrew Bird at the Orpheum. The Arcade Fire and St. Vincent in Chicago. The Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem in Red Rocks. And finally, Neko Case at the Rococo in Lincoln.
4. Back goes out on Christmas Eve with a looming possibility of surgery. I wanted to switch to another job, but know, a comfy wage and a boring job with health insurance seems more appealing than an exciting job as a lowly reporter with a preexisting condition that wouldn't be covered by insurance.
3. Hospitalized twice for an anxiety attack. My first. Haven't had one since, but Jesus, talk about a scare. I was in the heart of downtown Chicago and for about sixty minutes, I could feel my heart beating just by placing a hand on my back. My dad died of a heart attack when he was 43, and that's all I could think about.
2. Condo purchase. I took the plunge. After all the bitching I've done about Omaha, I knew I wanted to stay at this job at least through '08. And with a looming recession and a dead housing market, it was only about $40 more expensive than my rent. I don't know if this is me being too complacent (not opting to pack up everything and move to Seattle or Albuquerque) or me just realizing Omaha isn't a bad place to live in. It also didn't help that a few friends of mine, one from New York, one from Birmingham, came back to Omaha.
1. My friend Tracy had a one-vehicle accident that may cost her a foot. She's been in a nursing home since July. She goes home today and with no job now, it seriously makes me question the stupidity of not having universal health care coverage. She may have to have an amputation and she doesn't have insurance. Sure, people are saying "get disability" - but to do so, she has to rustle up doctors testimonies, physical therapist testimonies, get a lawyer and sign god knows how much paperwork. The fact that you need to do this much shit when you have a life-threatening condition sums up the priorities in congress. The Rush Limbaughs of the world decry how much welfare is costing taxpayers. He's right, to an extent. But if he were to publicly acknowledge that corporate welfare dwarfs individual welfare, his nation of dittoheads would be screaming at their elected officials.

Personal note - Tracy's accident was a great wake up call for me. Three times a week I went over to the nursing home to check in on her. She's given me checks to go out and do her errands. I've helped her walk and a few days ago, I took her to see Juno. I can't tell you how becoming at least a partial caregiver changes you. I would like to say "I'm far less selfish than I was." But it's a different experience for everyone. I do have to admit, since she's been in the hospital, I haven't had an anxiety attack since. All the shit that I almost severed my friendship with her - her incessant calling over menial things - then getting pissed when I didn't pick up the phone, the bawling on my couch about her life when all I really wanted to do is be alone and read the New York Times, now are reduced to the trivial shit that they always were.

Ok - onto my Top Music Picks of the Year:
spoon_gaga_15010 - Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
It may not grab you as strongly as Kill The Moonlight, but then again, what does? The music is as scaled back as always, but nothing on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga sounds like a retread. Britt Daniel sounds like he’s perpetually battling a sinus infection, but his trademark "awwwww!" howl, such as on “Japanese Cigarette Case” are quickly becoming as recognizable as Cobain’s scream or Tori Amos’ wail.

Boxer 9 - The National - Boxer
The show at Slowdown was so underwhelming that it didn't even make my top ten concerts of the year.
Album-wise, If Interpol sounded like a Joy Division rip off, then more than a few Joy Division fans may find The National to be an Interpol rip off. Their loss. Boxer, The National’s third album, is brooding without ever wallowing in self-pity. Matt Berninger’s sinister baritone voice may not be the most threatening in rock, but combined with Bryce Dessner’s guitar and Bryan Devendorf’s drums, the combination is chilling in songs like “Mistaken For Strangers” and “Start a War,” a sonic equivalent of a dying relationship.
pandabear_person_1508. Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Noah Lennox’s band Animal Collective released a mess of an album with Strawberry Jam this year. For those put off by the disjointed, sludgy murk of Strawberry Jam, Person Pitch was as welcome as a spring day in the dead of winter. It’s nearly impossible not to think of the Beach Boys, especially with the opening track “Comfy in Nautica,” but instead of aping Pet Sounds, Lennox opts to take the best elements of The Beach Boys, mainly their intense, layered harmonies, and provide a fresh take on psychedelia.
ryanadams_easy_1507. Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger
“Here comes that shit again…” Ryan Adams sings (or threatens?) on “Halloweenhead,” a frontrunner for the award for “Dumbest Song Title of the Decade.” For a while, Adams’ prolific nature has generated almost an equal amount of genius and groan-inducing awfulness on his last 54 albums. But with Easy Tiger, Adams gets somewhat sober and more importantly, an editor. “Everybody Knows” and “Rip Off” manage to be heartfelt without a hint of corn. Even “Halloweenhead” manages to charm the ears after a few listens.
wilco_sky_1506. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
It’s not challenging. It plays it safe. Indeed, once you hear the final track, “On And On And On,” chances are you’re not going to be blown away. But to take the advice from one of the tracks “Please Be Patient With Me,” Sky Blue Sky may eventually be mentioned in the same sentence as Summerteeth and Being There as fan favorites. Guitarist Nels Cline walks away with the M.V.P. on this album, creating guitar riffs so rich you don’t mind giving songs a sixth or seventh listen to fully appreciate.
mia_kala_1505. M.I.A. - Kala
The opposite of Sky Blue Sky. M.I.A. seemed to be channeling the early ‘90s, from the outrageous day-glo outfits to the incendiary politics of Ice Cube and Public Enemy in their prime. U.S. immigration may have forced M.I.A. to go international to record Kala, but the result was a total reflection of M.I.A.’s sound, a mix that has no international boundaries. Bollywood, The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” and Aborigine rappers are only a part of the chaos that is Kala. It may not be the most cohesive album of the year, but damned if it wasn’t the most exciting.
arcadefire_neon_150 4. The Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Neon Bible peters out toward the end. But that’s only because the band storms on with four amazingly epic tracks. Few bands could make Funeral, yet alone create a respectable follow-up, but The Arcade Fire succeed on their sophomore album. The church organs are still intact, as is Win Butler’s overdramatic wails, but Neon Bible manages to stand out due to its Springsteen-like combination of stadium-worthy anthems and vivid first-person narratives.
jarviscocker_jarvis_1503. Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis
Okay, this came out last year, but it wasn’t released in the States until this year. “Running The World,” which was my award for “Song of the Year” last year, may be buried 25 minutes after the final track has ended, but Jarvis has enough material to tide you over until that last hidden track. The album harkens back to the modest solo albums released by artists in the ‘60s. Cocker manages to continue to find new ways of expressing sexual frustration and romantic longing in “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” and “I Will Kill Again.” And just when you think you can predict his pattern of pessimism, he makes a song like “Loss Adjuster” where he reassures you “everything is gonna be all right.” With Jarvis, he makes you believe in that statement.

lcdsoundsystem_silver_1502. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Hard to believe people still make albums with only nine songs on them. Thank God. Each song on Sound Of Silver seemed like a track that you couldn’t skip over, no matter how much you wanted to hear “North American Scum” or “All My Friends.” More so than any album released this year, Sound Of Silver was an album that genuinely felt like the soundtrack of a quarter life or midlife crisis – from the euphoric highs “Watch The Tapes” to the bummed-out disintegration of relationships (“Something Great”).

radiohead_rainbows_150 1. Radiohead - In Rainbows
Hail To The Thief may have been a return to guitar-oriented rock for Radiohead, but In Rainbows marks the return of the band’s ability to make an album that floors you in terms of its quality. If the opening track “15 Step” sounded too much like Amnesiac-era Radiohead, “Bodysnatchers” was the track that sucked you in and kept you riveted to the low-key finale of “Videotape.” What we got in the middle was Thom Yorke’s latest infatuation of Marvin Gaye-like soul (“All I Need”) and lyrics that were mercifully free of abstraction (the “I don’t want to be your friend, I just want to be your lover” opening to “House Of Cards”). The fact that the songs on In Rainbows have managed to eclipse the hype surrounded the way the album was marketed is a testament to the quality of the album, easily their best since Kid A.

Disappointments: More just because they were overrated than genuinely bad. But the White Stripes Icky Thump didn't bowl me over. I like it, but midway through, all it does is want me to listen to a better White Stripes album or throw on Led Zeppelin III.

***whorish promotion note: if you want to check out my full list of the year, check out ***
And Feist...
Pitchfork media always perplexes me. If this album had Cowboy Junkies or Lucinda Williams on it, they would give it a 2.7 and say something like "such trite lyrics like 'the wings are wide' are the stuff of a freshman lit class at your community college." But for some reason, they gave this album a sick rating. I liked Let it Die, but this one, and it's not just because of the iPod commercial, but
all I can think about are people driving in their waxed SUV's, straight from Starbucks, drinking a caramel latte, taking to their fellow hip housewife about this amazing 'Feist' CD they just picked up from Starbucks. I dunno, maybe it's the peacock-preening album cover...

The Reminder

Ok, that's it. For those who read this far, thanks and have a raging and safe New Years.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated in Pakistan

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Reuters)

I'm watching BBC America's coverage of Bhutto's assassinated. I tried to see the coverage on other channels, such as ABC or NBC, but it's business as usual over at those to get the best 'after Christmas' buys, tips to get in shape for '08.

Reza Aslan, author of No God But God, said in an interview that Bhutto was risking her life in October when a bomb detonated near her barricade - thousands of people were swarming Bhutto and the motorcade was inching forward, making her an easy target. Stupidly, I thought Bhutto's camp would make adjustments and increased security measures would be taken.

Bhutto was not perfect by any means. She was charged with corruption, but the charges were later withdrawn. She was the first woman elected in a Muslim state. Her faher was hanged in 1979. In an interview, Bhutto said as she stood at her father's grave, she said "I would not rest until democracy had returned to Pakistan."