A radio personality in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, Alex has a rich family legacy in media. Music, movies, and politics are all on this guy’s radar. He appears on the TWG podcast in the “Heartbeat of the 20-Something” segment. He also blogs with zest on cultural topics – with an emphasis on reviewing the newest movies and music.
Because Twitter has tainted the way we write, we’re trying something new this year, reviews for our top 10 albums in 140 characters or less. Why? Because we’re hip and modern (and because Alex can’t come up with anything clever to write). Enjoy!
Could someone please explain to me the phenomenon known as Betty White?
Okay, okay, I know she”s a Golden Girl turned. But aside from that, I don”t have a clue how she was re-birthed as America”s hottest commodity. It seems like I woke up one morning and suddenly she was plastered everywhere. Hosting SNL. Getting a new tv show. Appearing in movies. And now….. this is BIG news. I repeat, BIG NEWS. Please turn off all tvs, radios, and iPods. Close any other windows on your computer screen. You really don”t want to miss this…
Betty White is officially a COMIC BOOK HERO! That”s right, the Golden Girl is getting her own comic book! “Female Force: Betty White” will be released jameshallison casino in November by Blue Water comics. Please start saving your money now. It would be a shame to miss this literary gem.
Although there”s little out there disclosing the specific content of Betty”s comic book, we do know that she”ll be joining the ranks of fellow characters Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin. Talk about Female Force!
I find it amusing there”s enough of a demand for Betty White to merit a comic book, but I guess it makes sense. After all, we Americans love second chances and stories of redemption. There”s nothing more exciting than seeing a lady in her 80″s succeed in a world of endlessly youthful Hollywood starlets.
The comic book may be a bit excessive, but it proves that anything is possible. And to be honest, when given a choice between watching Betty White make sexual innuendos on SNL or reading about her as a comic book hero, I think I”d choose the comic book any day!
For the last twenty months or so the Obama administration and the Pelosi/Reid congress have ignored the outspoken preferences of a majority of citizens, enacting legislation and policies that have most of us counting the days until the November mid-terms.
Many voters who swooned for Obama in 2008 are getting ready to make different choices this year and sleepy citizens who typically don’t pay attention to politics are slowly waking up to the issues and consequences we face as a nation. They are seeing what happens when the long-touted progressive agenda has an unrestrained opportunity to germinate, flower, and bear fruit, and they don’t like it.
Despite the media silence on many big issues in the last couple of years and repeated attempts to obfuscate the obvious, the character of this administration is on display for all to see: the corruption and nepotism, the broken promises, the unsolved economic woes, the bad foreign policy, the arrogance, and a cornucopia of other things that reveal how deeply out of step our policymakers are with the rest of the country and the original intent of our founders for the United States of America. This year’s elections are practically ours for the taking.
So why are we making the so-called Ground Zero Mosque our current defining issue?
Most average Americans are far more concerned about things like joblessness, illegal immigration, out-of-control national debt and government spending, health care reform, the war on terror, so why are we repeating old mistakes by losing sight of the big picture?
Sure, most of us don’t like the idea of the Islamic Cultural Center (henceforth referred to as a mosque for reasons of convenience, if not precision), and our reasons why are very popular talking points: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (the chief proponent of the mosque) has espoused some controversial views regarding terrorism and 9/11, it’s too close to the “hallowed ground” of Ground Zero, taxpayer dollars have paid for Rauf to travel internationally, and so forth.
I don’t disagree with the relevance of any of these things. In fact, I think it’s probable that many things about this mosque are intended to be a political statement and even an intentional slap to the face of America.
That said, I have yet to see a single argument that demonstrates a valid legal or constitutional reason for prohibiting the construction of this mosque.
Here’s the salient point: if, as conservatives, we desire the limited government and broader freedoms that our country’s founders intended, we must not go running to the government for solutions to things we dislike.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Not only is it hypocritical of us to ask the government to intervene in the private affairs of this Muslim group, it sets a dangerous precedent for what the government could then be permitted to do elsewhere. Those warm fuzzies we might feel after the construction of the mosque is blocked would fade pretty quickly when our own churches are prohibited from being built in a certain part of town.
Now, there are certainly options on the table for preventing the mosque from being built on the proposed location, but all of those remain squarely the responsibility of the citizens of New York City and no one else. For example, should NYC residents vote to enact special landmark zoning for a specified area around Ground Zero, that would be entirely their right. Similar zoning practices are in use near other places of historical significance around the country and could be put into place in New York; at this time, however, no such action has been taken.
While the “Ground Zero Mosque” is unpopular at a national level on both sides of the aisle (Senator Harry Reid recently came out in opposition to it!), it is still a divisive issue. In the eyes of individuals who have no problem with the mosque, those who oppose it come across as intolerant, bigoted, fearful, or just plain mean.
In this election year, when success for conservatives — and America — means ensuring a historic overturn of Congress, we need all the help we can get. We need to focus on the issues that unite, not divide. We need to communicate solutions to clear-cut problems like health care and government overspending. We need to be leaders, not whiners.
So even if the mosque offends you, let them build it — or let the people of New York be the ones to stop it. Let’s turn our efforts instead to making sure all Americans are fired up to vote this November and that they’re educated and informed about the real issues at hand.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re the only one who romanticizes, not the elusive “one” (which doesn’t actually exist, but that’s another topic for another place), but rather your favorite album and band, meet Craig Finn, the everyman who fronts The Hold Steady. He knows exactly what you’re talking about.
Heaven Is Whenever is an album about and for album lovers. It’s a rock and roll record about the ramifications of rock and roll. It’s for those of us who obsess over the records and shows that shaped us, for yours truly it’s Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity and a Dashboard Confessional show in St. Louis, for Finn it’s a Youth of Today and Shelter show at the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis (see “Barely Breathing”).
Finn’s musings on his various functional heavens are telling throughout as his Catholic upbringing still refuses to stay repressed. “Our Whole Lives” is the most glaring example as he lets us know that, “Tonight we’re gonna have a really good time/But I want to go to Heaven on the day I die/Going to make like a preemptive strike/Hit the 5:30 mass early Saturday night.”
On the de facto title track “We Can Get Together” Finn expresses what all true music lovers feel in their heart, “Heaven is whenever/we can get together/lock your bedroom door/and listen to your records.” On paper, it may look uninspiring, but listen to the song and you’ll want it to be the focal point of all your future mix tapes.
As with previous albums, these songs are telling stories about people and places we all know, have heard of or have been. “Hurricane J” is a windows-down rocker about that pretty girl you wish would stop making all those bad decisions, and “The Sweet Part of the City” is about that one year you look back on with such fondness, you know the one, and so does Craig.
On this “back-to-basics” release, the Chicago punks continue to plumb the depths of unhealthy relationships, fully relying on the drug addiction metaphor the title implies. An ominous atmosphere surrounds This Addiction and is most fully felt on the stellar “Fine” where the analogy of raining for days makes it’s second appearance on the record and ultimately ties everything together. The Trio pull out a few new tricks in the form of a horn on “Lead Poisoning” and an 80’s vibe on “Eating Me Alive”, but the soul of the album is in it’s simple, straightforward nature; 3-minute punk songs about how hard life is and how mean girls can be.
With “Need You Now” topping the charts on the Billboard 200 and iTunes, it’s safe to say that Lady Antebellum has transcended country music. The ode to co-dependence is getting airplay on pop and adult contemporary radio and is poised to make them the next Rascal Flatts, and I dare say they have the potential to be bigger than the Flatts thanks to the melodic one-two punch of Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott. This winning combination is beautifully displayed on “Our Kind of Love” and Scott’s charm is put front and center on the down-home “American Honey”, a song that sums up all that modern pop country is and should be. That’s the thing about Lady A, they’re not breaking any new ground, they’re just doing what they do better than anyone else right now (yes, even better than Taylor Swift).
Angels & Airwaves – LOVE
Tom DeLonge has done a wonderful job of building up phenomenal expectations with each AVA album and with each album he’s done an equally phenomenal job of letting us down. That’s certainly not to say that LOVE, and the entire AVA catalogue for that matter, isn’t uplifting and, at times, epic, which is exactly what DeLonge is going for, it’s just that when you’re trying to accomplish that in every song it makes every song sound exactly the same. So now we have LOVE, part concept album, part soundtrack for the forthcoming movie of the same name, but really it’s just another AVA record boosted more by DeLonge’s bloated ego than the songs themselves. Don’t get me wrong, LOVE is an enjoyable listen, “Young London” especially, and it’s made all the more enjoyable by the fact that AVA is giving it away for free, download it here.
A few artists and albums that are getting us through the winter doldrums, enjoy!
Vampire Weekend – Contra
Terms like “afro-pop” follow this band around and, admittedly, I have no idea what that means, but I do understand the preppy, collegiate label they’ve received as Contra sounds like the soundtrack to all those daydreams of what you thought college would be like. What drew me to this record however was the album closer “I Think Ur A Contra” which finds lead singer, Ezra Koenig, letting that special someone know, “I just wanted you.”
Sara Bareilles – Live from the Gravity Tour
It’s probably not okay for a guy to like Sara Bareilles as much as I do, but God help me, I can’t help but be won over by her lyrics, voice and personality. The tunes from Little Voice all get new arrangements that breathe new life into the songs, and we’re also treated to a new number called “Free Ride” as well as a heart-all-the-way-on-sleeve cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”. This EP was only being offered on her website for a limited time, but it was also being offered for free so it’s okay to search the web and download it.
He Is We
Rachel Taylor and Trevor Kelly look like your typical emo kids with skinny jeans and fake problems, but there’s a sparkle in Rachel’s voice that overshadows the half-baked lyrics and points toward their potential. We’ll see what they’re really made of when they release their debut EP later this year, but you can hear them for yourself now on MySpace and download some demos at their Purevolume page.
Cory Branan – The Hell You Say
Upon first listen, comparisons to Ryan Adams are immediate and deserved, but Branan’s over-the-top imagery trump anything I’ve ever heard Adams produce. For instance, on the instant favorite “Crush” Branan lets us know that, “I’m a 16 year old Hitler with a troubled love sick mind/do you get the picture/I am of the dangerous kind.” Yeah, he did say that. Released in 2002, The Hell You Say is a gritty, unpolished and highly recommended piece of alt-country.
Brand New – Daisy
In many ways this album feels like the sequel to The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, but where that album seemed to meander as it figured itself out, Daisy cuts to the chase as Jesse Lacey continues to exercise his literal and metaphorical demons. A lot of bands soften their sound as they age, but Brand New only turn up the intensity here which fits nicely with Lacey’s increasing neurosis.
Dashboard Confessional – Live 2009 Bootlegs
Oh the joy! Chris Carrabba and John Lefler embarked on an acoustic tour toward the end of 2009 and made every show from the tour available for free. You can download them all at dcbootlegs.com, and there’s no guarantee they’ll be up forever, so get ‘em while you can. A personal highlight is the encore at the December 2nd show in San Francisco where they play the So Impossible EP in its entirety.
Better late than never…our friend Nicorelli from 99.7 KISS FM in Springfield, Illinois (yes, the birthplace of Barack H. Obama) shares his top 10 albums of 2009. Go figure, he and Alex have the same taste in music, but he brings an Illinois-y perspective to last year’s best, enjoy!
P.S. You can listen to Nicorelli weeknights, 7-midnight, at 997kissfm.com. Do it!
10. New Found Glory – Not Without a Fight
Solid but nothing outstanding. If there is one thing that NFG does well it’s writing catchy hooks, which this album is full of. I’m just not sure if there is much substance behind them.
Download “Heartless at Best” & “47”
9. Rihanna – Rated R
DARK album from the reigning princess of pop, at least comparing it to her previous records. I wonder why… Was she in the news at all this year??? It does take a little while to get used to because it can be very slow at times. With guests like will.i.am, Young Jeezy and Slash (yes, THAT Slash), pretty diverse feel to the album as a whole.
Download “Stupid In Love” & “Rude Boy”
8. Say Anything – Say Anything
No one can sing about hating everyone and everything like Max Bemis. Just a rock’n’roll record. Bemis’ voice truly evokes emotion. You feel everything that he is feeling.
Download “Hate Everyone” & “Eloise”
7. Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
The Jigga Man returns with the third in his Blueprint trilogy. Though it may be a tad over-produced and rely on the guest vocals too much, Jay fully delivers on this record. I don’t think it should shock people this was the highest selling rap album of the year.
Download “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” & “Run This Town”
6. Taking Back Sunday – New Again
If you know Taking Back Sunday, you know what you’re getting, a lot of Adam Lazzara singing his face off, bass solos that will melt YOUR face off and plenty of complaining. The last of which is realized in “Capital M-E”, which was written about the sudden departure of guitarist, Fred Mascherino, who left the band due to conflicts in writing. Even though the band seems to be almost a revolving door of musicians, TBS doesn’t ever seem lose a step.
Download “Sink Into Me” & “Cut Me Up Jenny”
5. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
It’s very interesting how Green Day has progressed from just a pop-punk band to THE POP-PUNK band. One thing that I liked more about this album than American Idiot is that it includes a taste of Green Day of yesteryear. Covering everything from skewed media and an over-reliance on technology, this isn’t a sequel or a continuation of AI, it forges its own path.
Download “21st Century Breakdown” & “Peacemaker”
4. John Mayer – Battle Studies
Definitely takes a couple listens, but once it sinks it’s teeth in, you realize the brilliance of John Mayer. What goes unnoticed in the shadow of his writing, Mayer’s one of the best guitarists on the planet.
Download “Friends, Lovers or Nothing” & “Half of My Heart”
3. fun. – Aim and Ignite
When you go back and listen to The Format, you can tell that the best was yet to come. In the wake of their breakup, fun. proves that. Very light feel while mature at the same time.
Download “Benson Hedges” & “All the Pretty Girls”
2. Paramore – Brand New Eyes
So impressed with this album. With the meteoric rise to stardom with Riot! and an indefinite hiatus behind them, Hayley and the boys came back with an album that is bigger and is very telling as to what they’ve been through over the course of just a couple years.
Download “Brick By Boring Brick” & “Where the Lines Overlap”
1. Dashboard Confessional – Alter the Ending
It seems like the previous 2 Dashboard albums were working towards this. Chris Carrabba’s vocals are just as solid as ever, lyrics are always poignant and from the first guitar you hear in “Get Me Right”, you can tell this is a different album from what we’ve heard previously from these fellas.
2009 has been quite a year. Influenza terror, beauty pageant queens becoming national icons, and the day the world stood still while we thought a tiny and curiously named boy was flying hundreds of feet over Colorado in a balloon. In order to really ponder all the political, cultural, and sporting headlines from the year, David Gregory, and Goose Nissley join me to examine the highlights of the year that was.
Well, how can we not start this off by discussing our new Comrade, excuse me, Commander-In-Chief, Barack H. Obama? For me, the best part of his presidency so far is that it’s produced this SNL skit…
Goose Nissley – President Obama was definitely the big story this year (however slightly his lead is over balloon boy). How often does a guy buy General Motors, provide an entire nation with health care, win the Nobel Peace Prize, and appear on a promo for George Lopez Tonight… ALL IN ONE YEAR?!
Alex – Plus, he got the approval evangelicals via Rick Warren, Donald Miller and the always um, relevant, Relevant Magazine, all while letting the rest of the world know that we’re not a Christian nation. Win!
David Gregory – Obama ruled 2008, but 2009 is the year of Carrie Prejean. Who else can claim to have represented an entire voter base, committed actions to alienate it, and subsequently kept its support simply because of her heaving platforms? She is the epitome of the media world we live in: one sentence can make you, one sex tape can break you (or as I like to call this, the reverse Paris Hilton).
Alex – Whoa, easy, David. Goose considers Miss Prejean a shining example of moral excellence for her stance against gay marrige in the face of that great mental giant, Perez Hilton.
Goose – SAY IT AIN’T SO CARRIE! You really wanted to cheer for her / date her, especially since she was being lampooned by that unpleasant Hilton dude. There is no joy in Mudville tonight.
Well you know what else was interesting… Swi… Iii mean H1N1 flu. For months, everyone was told that we were all going to do die. Then, suddenly, absolutely nothing happened…
Alex- I actually had it twice and died twice.
David – Yeah, the Swine Flu was so media driven and ultimately unsuccessful, I thought the United States was going to elect it.
Alex - Seriously though, Kathleen Sebelius is the one who really deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for teaching us all how to sneeze correctly. I used to think my farts were sneezes, boy was I confused.
David – That’s Alex’s Illinois education shining through again. Speaking of an Illinois education, we haven’t broached Helmet Hair yet…
Alex – Helmet Hair?
David – I’m sorry Alex, maybe you were unaware of a certain controversy in your home state. Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached at the beginning of 2009 under the allegation that he sold former Senator Barack Obama’s congressional seat.
Goose - AND YET… he still garnered a book deal! Everyone wrote books this year! Helmet Hair, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Carrie Prejean, Andre Agassi…
Does anyone even read books anymore?
Alex – Nope, they’re too busy giving their snarky commentary on pseudo-political, pseudo-legitimate blogs.
I actually did read Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper this year and now I feel bad about watching television no matter what I’m watching, even if it’s Christian television, like Joel Osteen or Desperate Housewives.
Goose – And who says Conservatives are narrow minded…
Alex – I’m just trying to embrace multiple worldviews, you know, coexist and such…
Then again, that sort of anything goes, Laissez-faire attitude is what caused our current economical woes, thanks a lot Dubya.
David – And now we get to the heart of the matter: Dubya redux. Politically, socially and economically, 2009 was the year of people blaming the previous administration for everything that followed it. Why can’t Obama get anything done? He’s cleaning up the Bush mess. Why can’t Wall Street right itself? Too much free-market legislation in the previous two decades. Why can’t Hillary Clinton look like an attractive woman? Aging that occurred DURING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION.
And so on.
Goose – Hohohoho… Aging that occurred during… that was good stuff…
Hmmm. President Obama might want to look more northeast to seek the true source of the year’s ills. The Evil Empire is on the march once again. The New York Yankees purchased another World Series in 2009. Bleh.
David – Umm…Tiger Woods has been in the news lately. He didn’t win a major championship this year. Which makes sense: it’s tough to beat the field when you’re playing it! (Jay Leno-like head bobble)...
Goose – If I was married to Elin Nordegren I wouldn’t have gone on the prowl that way.
I do think it’s time for us to declare our favorite happenings of the year…
For me it’s a tie between the Minnesota Twins win in Game 163 of the MLB season & Al Gore reading aloud his climate change poem on Harry Smith’s CBS program.
Alex – The Blink-182 reunion and subsequent reunion tour. A lot of old bands got back together this year; nostalgia was the new black. It’s probably because people really miss the days of Dubya.
David – From a sports perspective, the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team winning the national championship made me jump up and down unlike the Baptist that I am. From a cultural perspective, anything R Kelly does is the highlight of my American life.
A Very Merry Christmas & Happy New Year! May your holidays be filled with a general sense of well being.
As The Boss makes his transition to “seasoned citizen” all of his words on this record seem to carry a bit of wisdom. “Outlaw Pete” is reminiscent of his earlier narrative tunes, but the majority of Working on A Dream is filled with sage advice and anecdotal reflections on a storied life.
Favorite Track: “Life Itself”
9) Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.
This was the perfect summer album, carefree and delightfully silly. Plus, “Boom Boom Pow” was the top selling song on iTunes this year. I’m not sure what that says about our culture, but if you can make a song about nothing and sell millions of copies, more power to you.
Favorite Track: “Alive”
8 – fun. – Aim and Ignite
Life can get messy, and the boys in fun. know it all too well as they deliver the sordid details of their weekends over syrupy-sweet pop melodies. Featuring some of the catchiest songs in any genre this year, Aim and Ignite was 2009’s most pleasant surprise.
Favorite Track: “All the Pretty Girls”
7) John Mayer – Battle Studies
I know it’s completely cliché for a 24-year-old guy to say, “John Mayer totally get it”, but seriously, John Mayer totally gets it. The allure of Mayer, on this record especially, is that he’s able to communicate the hopes and fears of every twenty-something while making it seem like he’s speaking only to you.
Favorite Track: “Perfectly Lonely”
6) Taking Back Sunday – New Again
After losing an integral band member on less than friendly terms, at least according to the revealing “Capital M-E”, TBS recruited new guitarist/vocalist Matt Fazzi and barely skipped a beat. Drugs, religion, summer romance, failing friendships and a broken engagement all find their place on New Again, letting us know that emo is still alive and well.
Favorite Track: “Everything Must Go”
5) Paramore – Brand New Eyes
Apparently Hayley Williams was feeling judged by some folks and decided to respond with an album full of songs judging those who were judging her. Judge. All the finger pointing aside, and boy is there a lot of it, Paramore stepped up their game and crossed the threshold from emo pop-tarts to full-fledged rock stars.
Favorite Track: “All I Wanted”
4) Colbie Caillat – Breakthrough
Miss Caillat continues to leave me completely smitten as she sings about love in all of its various forms. While there’s nothing particularly challenging here, for Caillat or the listener, that’s also the beauty of the record as she plays to her greatest strength: being down-to-earth and relatable.
Favorite Track: “Fearless”
3) Dashboard Confessional – Alter the Ending
There’s a familiarity in Chris Carrabba’s tone that balances out the rock god aspirations on Alter the Ending. The combination of the two makes for an instantly exciting record that’s accessible and surprising and gives me high hopes for the future of my favorite band.
Favorite Track: “Get Me Right”
2) David Gray – Draw the Line
Never has so much human frailty been presented with such poise. Visceral and raw, Draw the Line is heavy enough to collapse under it’s own seriousness, but is buoyed by Gray’s delivery and charm. It’s the sound of all the thoughts you wish you could put into words being expressed more elegantly than you ever imagined.
Favorite Track: “Kathleen”
1) Steven Curtis Chapman – Beauty Will Rise
This is more than music. This is a journey through every heartbreaking step of the Chapman’s tragic loss. This is a sovereign God triumphing over evil and tragedy. Honestly, words escape me when I talk about this album except to say that it’s truly the most worshipful record I’ve ever experienced.
For me, the best albums are the ones where the music changes with you during each stage of life. On their 6th full-length, Chris Carrabba and Co. intentionally create that type of album. Whereas Carrabba’s earlier releases were heart-on-sleeve affairs, Alter the Ending is a bit more fluid in its overall story and message. Alter is really a culmination of Carrabba’s ever-evolving sound that he first made famous with his weeping guitar but has since turned into something much more bombastic and substantive.
The first 3 tracks show off the lessons the band learned while opening for U2, and make for some of Dashboard’s most exciting songs ever. “Get Me Right” features one of Carrabba’s more interesting musings not about a girl, but Jesus, while “Everybody Learns From Disaster” sounds like that perfect summer night out with your friends when you were 20. Save for a few tracks, including the nausea-inducing and yet still sweet “Even Now”, Carrabba let’s us decide what the songs are about and that breathing room brings a freshness to Alter.
More than anything, Alter the Ending is surprising, sometimes in big ways, like the opening synthesizer on “The Motions”, but more often in nuanced ways, like the genuine “Hell On the Throat”, which despite it’s misleading title is actually a poetic ode to unconditional love. If you’ve grown up with Dashboard, you’ll be more than pleased with this effort, as it may be one of their best yet. If you gave up on Carrabba and his wailing in the early 2000’s, now’s the time to reconsider, because just like all of us, he’s grown up and it sounds great.
Entertainment, Information & a General Sense of Well Being