So far, the best music of 2008

I'm not claiming to be the best music critic in the world here. I'll listen to and appreciate about anything but really mainstream country music. Probably more a sign of my personality than musical taste.

What I listen to on a more regular basis is fairly limited. I tend to listen more to the "alternative" category than anything else.

Here are a few reviews of CDs I've gotten this year:

Band - Title - Rating (out of 10)

Coldplay - Viva La Vida - 9 - This is by far the CD that I have listened to the most this year. I've heard the criticisms that it only has only 10 tracks and that there's only a couple of radio-play tracks on it. However, I really like the fact this was made into a "theme album". The two instrumentals that start and end the CD are reminiscent of the theme Coldplay emphasized in their "How We Saw the World" concert. This is a snapshot, almost like a view into a window of what was going on at the time. Musically, the songs aren't that challenging. I could pick up a guitar and play something that sounded like any of the songs in probably two or three minutes. But the choice of instruments, the mix of unusual percussion and synthetic sounds makes this a well produced CD. Certainly it is their least "mainstream" work to date, but really I'm tired of these CDs I buy that have two or three good songs that are radio-friendly and the rest are filler. There's no filler here.

Kaiser Chiefs - Off With Their Heads - 7 - Just got this one recently. Sort of has a British "Futureheads" meet "Duran Duran" sound. Catchy tunes here, the kind of songs that get stuck in your head. That bright-80s backbeat sound has certainly made a comeback, and this band does a good job with it.

Metallica - Death Magnet - 7 - No slow jams here. This CD is fast and angry. Never been a huge Metallica fan, but I'm sure those who like the band really like this CD. Has more of an "And Justice for All" sound than a "Black" sound. Put it on the IPOD for a good work out.

Smashing Pumpkins - American Gothic - 6 - It would be easy to overlook this, being how it was released New Year's Day and through their website, but the Smashing Pumpkins put out their second CD in a year, an EP. Never has Billy Corgan's voice sounded as bad, which says a lot, because (I'll be kind here) Billy's more known for his song writing than singing. Aside from this, it's a completely different sound than their full-length CD of 2007, mellow, acoustic. Even though the four tracks are decent, it's not a must have.

The Charlatans - You Cross My Path - 6 - These guys have been around awhile. A co-worker of mine in the UK tipped me off to this one. It's a good listen, good Brit Pop Rock. A plus here, this CD has the sound of a very tight band. Not too gimmicky.

Kings of Leon - Only By Night - 5 - I personally didn't like this CD all that much, although I know others did. Has that sort of empty, throaty sound. Tolerable for me, that's about it. The "country" riffs thrown into almost a light-punk sound is intriguing though. Never seen them live, I would bet they are better live than memorex.

Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns - 7 - I got this one a little early. Less "Eyes Open" more "Final Straw". The last track (the long one) is great. Anyone who heard the way Extreme meshed together the last three tracks on "Extreme III" would appreciate this one (OK, it's not that well done). This CD is a little more diverse than the band's last CD. Still gets a little sappy, too mainstream at time.

MGMT - The Oracular Spectacular - 7 - For those of us who do venture into the world of Mike Patton side-projects, this is refreshing (Peeping Tom wasn't that great). MGMT has taken a pretty simple sound and fed it through a kaliedescope in an echoing hallway. Everything echos here. Also out of the Radiohead book, not a lot of verse-chorus-verse here. I wouldn't put this on unless you were in the mood for "something different".

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight - 5 - Remember Soul Coughing? Why does this remind me of that band? This has a real "alternative sound". I could see this as one of those CDs all the alternative-heads talk about but you never hear. I didn't really find anything that stood out about this CD and found it a little repetitive.

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago - 7 - This one is making a lot of people's top 10 lists. I went in with an open mind. At first this could sound pretty run-of-the-mile, but it's a lyrical advancement on most folk-rock sounding acts. It will grow on you a bit. The folk sound is pre-Elliot Smith, pre-Neil Young even. Banjos fit in everywhere, but the vocals are more modern. Not bad at all.

Ray LaMontagne - Gossip In the Grain - 7 - Unlike contemporary Josh Ritter, Ray definitely made a CD more familiar to his fans than different. It's got a lot of "American sounds" (again with the banjos, even a dixie-band sound at times). The music features Ray's voice more than his voice covering over the instruments. A unique voice it is, which can sound deep or soulful one moment and raspy another.

Keane - Perfect Symmetry - 6 - Another band that has fallen back to an 80s sound, although they don't quite do it as well as others. Keane's vocals got the band popularity in the US with their "Hopes and Fears" CD, then went for a more complicated sound on "Under the Iron Sea" but didn't hide Tom Chaplins' tremendous vocal range. There's a few good hooks in here, but it's watered down and gets lost in redundant failed disco beats. I think Keane suffers from suffering the bar so high with their first US release. They've yet to get back there.

Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul - 7 - I know this one has its detractors, but as a non-Oasis fan, I actually liked it. Sure, you want to know why John, George, Paul and Ringo didn't sing on this one, but the tunes are pleasant in the typical Oasis dreary way.

Santogold - Santogold - 8 - This could be written off as a quasi-hip hop album from the well-known "Creator" single, but really this is extremely diverse. Santogold's voice can almost sound like Stevie Nicks or Aimee Mann at times. One could pull 2 or 3 tracks off this CD and convince you it was a totally different band and you'd believe it.

I didn't review the Aimee Man, Goldfrapp or Portishead CD's yet, because I haven't heard enough of them. What I've heard I've liked, especially Portishead. I keep hearing that the Killers new CD is going to sound like a dance club, so that worries me a bit, but I can't confirm it.

I'm a big fan of Ben Folds, but "Way to Normal" still remains unlistened to other than the catch single "You Don't Know Me". I also love the Futureheads but the verdict is still out on their new one. Check out this band though. Conor Oberst's new one, also very good.

I absolutely hated the Panic! At the Disco CD, although I know fans seemed to like it. Also, the Scarlett Johanson CD is the probably the worst thing I ever heard. And trust me when I say I am willing to give something a little different a try.


OK I admit it.. the Yanks are done.

A little snap shot I got of Ching-Ming Wang on crutches

I've been saying it for a couple weeks. It's true. Count the Yankees out. Even when they went into the Red Sox series at Yankee Stadium last week, I saw they were facing Halladay and Burnett (again!) vs. the back end of the Yanks rotation. I knew that was two more losses.

Speak of Halladay and Burnett, it seems like the Yankees always get stuck facing these two. The odds of facing two particular pitchers in a three-game series is 30%. The Yanks have faced the Jays 5 times and in all five of those series Halladay has pitched. The odds of that are 7.7%. (Halladay lost on Opening Day and beat the Yanks the next four times.) Burnett they have faced four of the five series. So far this year, Burnett (having a great year in his "walk year") has only faced the Red Sox two times. Halladay has faced the Red Sox 3 times (2 wins, 1 loss, a 1-0 game). Halladay is probably the best pitcher year-in and year-out in the AL (Cliff Lee is the best this year, without a doubt).

It seems the Yanks seem to draw the best of every team's rotation this year. I'm not making excuses for them; they don't need it. Their best hitter missed a month and hasn't been as good as his MVP year last year. Jeter and Abreu are slightly down, Matsui and Posada both missed over half of the season. That's probably their top five hitters. Couple that with their ace missing half the Year (Wang) and Hughes missing most of the season, they are lucky to even have a winning record. Plus they make more unproductive outs than any team I ever saw.

Back to the theme of their opponents' starting pitchers. Cliff Lee. The Yanks played the Indians twice, missed Lee in a four-game series, amazingly, then were shutout by him during the second series. They faced Sabathia and Carmona once each. But after they were shutout by Lee, things got more difficult. Starting with the game verse Lee, over a nine-day period the Yanks faced Lee, Scott Kazmir, Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Jamie Shields (also Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers, both average pitchers). After Santana, the Yanks were flat vs. Oliver Perez (probably threw better than anyone else during that stretch, and beat them again the next month).

They caught a break and missed Felix Hernandez (who they beat already earlier in the year) when they played the Mariners (they faced and beat Bedard and Washburn who are both average to above average pitchers). Halladay came in for a win, they faced the Twins slew of young, mediocre pitchers who overachieve, then back to interleague.

In Interleague, they faced the Padres (saw their ace, Peavy) and the Astros (as they did with Peavy, they beat the Astros ace, Oswalt). They looked awful verse the Reds top pitcher (Volquez). I can't complain too much about interleague. The Sox faced Webb and Haren and the Yanks missed the D-Backs all together.

It got no easier with the Mets again (missed Maine, but they faced the other big names, including Santana and the-aged Pedro Martinez). A fun eight-day AL East Stretch of Beckett, Lester, Kazmir (2-game series vs. Tampa and drew the ace again, but beat him) Halladay and Burnett. Granted, those are division teams so they are probably lining up to face them.

The Yanks won eight-straight out of the All-Star break, including wins over Beckett (down this year, but they still faced him all but one time vs. the Red Sox) and Duchscherer. They lost to Guthrie and Cabrera (I guess those are Baltimore's two best pitchers) in a three-game set. Anaheim beat the tar out of the Yanks with Weaver twice, Lackey twice, Santana and Saunders once each. The Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles in Orange County were beating everyone, though. Until they put the breaks on and started snoozing. I hope they wake up for the Red Sox in the first round, somehow I think they won't.

And this week more of the same, Kazmir, Halladay, Burnett, Lester, a one-game series vs. the Tigers where they destroyed their ace, Justin Verlander. (Don't think Lester is an elite pitcher, check out his career numbers...)

I guess losers complain. It's baseball, the luck of the draw. I'm just trying to find some reason how this team has performed like this. Even with the injuries, they still have a lineup now with a potential future hall-of-famer (I-Rod, who has no power left but still hits for average) is hitting ninth.

One thing that makes me feel better... they will be better next year. Odds are Wang, Hughes and Chamberlain play a lot more. These are young guys. Wang's injury was a freak injury. They resign Mussina (He won't be as good as this year, but he'd be a good 3 or 4 starter) and Pettitte is back and pitches better (He said he wants to play in the new Yankee Stadium) and they are going to be solid next year. Plus Burnett is probably out of the division next year, so the Blue Jays take a massive step down.

It's still going to be a long off season. Unless you win it all, it always is.


Right-wing Radio vs. Sports Radio.

Living in Connecticut I have my choice of three sports-talk radio shows. But on one particular day when my Ipod wasn't working and I couldn't handle any more talk on Brett Farve coming back or the how great the new Mets manager is, I decided to see what radio stations I got from my car. I kept running into Right-Wing, Republican call-in shows, whether Local or National, which all seemed to have the same opinion. This was a lot different than Sports Talk Radio, where Mike and the Mad Dog question Joe Girardi's use of the bullpen in a close loss then have callers who defend or chastise Girardi. That's what appeals to me about sports talk radio, that there are conflicting opinions; there is a debate. Right-wing radio is far from a debate, it's just restating the same opinion over and over again.

The problem with the right-wing radio format is it is not a debate or a discussion. They pick one side of an argument, have everyone agree with it and never point out the other side of the discussion. In life, things aren't black and white and the right-wing radio format tries to portray all doctrine, all people and all actions as black or white, right or wrong.

Analysis and debate involve higher-level thought than rewording the same argument. For example, I heard a sports talk show host saying Melky Cabrera and Jacoby Ellsbury were basically the same player. Come on, I thought to myself, Ellsbury is one of the top prospects in baseball. In a recent conversation with Don Mattingly, Don was asked which young players he liked and the first one he listed was Jacoby. Yet the radio host backed up his arguments with Jacoby's road numbers verse Melky's. Other than stolen bases and outfield assists, pretty much identical. Also, Melky is a year younger. I still don't agree with the host. I'm a Yanks fan, but I'd take Jacoby over Melky anyday. Still, it was a good debate.

Back to right-wing radio: Next caller... "Everyone speaks out against the Bush Administration, but he freed a nation." I'm not going to disprove the validity of that statement right now, needless to say, I disagree. But even the Iraq War, that I strongly oppose, it is not black or white, right or wrong. But having fourteen people with same opinion speaking over and over again sounds like some sort of Neuro-Lingustic Programming method or propaganda of a leader like Stalin or Hitler.

"If you aren't behind the president and the troops, you are against them. It's not patriotic". Again, another argument I don't agree with, but that's not the theme here. One of the first things that appealed to me about Barack Obama and John McCain was their ability to work with people on the other side of the aisle. McCain worked with Sens. Feingold and Kerry on campaign finance reform. I feel McCain is going away from this, following the right-wing mantra; nothing done by a democrat is right. Obama has constantly said he doesn't believe that; that democrats are always correct. In his second book, the first thing Obama said about Bush was how he was friendly and found a mutual topic for the two of them to discuss. Obama's views are 180 degrees different than Bush, but he was willing to discuss and give him a chance to state his opinions. Bush, on the other hand, has surrounded himself with a cabinet of like-minded people, which has failed. But, again, off topic.

Back to Right-Wing Radio. Not a fan of Bill O'Reilly and his views, and I know it's TV but not Radio, but a friend recently linked me to two O'Reilly interviews, one with Geraldo Rivera and another with Michael Moore. Both times, O'Reilly was in disagreement with the guest. Both times, debates ensued. I found he did make a decent point or two when talking with Michael Moore, but I definitely sided with Moore. It was good, however, to hear a debate. I didn't check the ratings, but I'd assume they were pretty good... the right-wing people getting their chance to skewer Michael Moore. I'd like to see and hear more of this, debate.