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Music of 2012 [F]
Jan 9th, 2013 by Dan

Colorful Dream

They’re not a real band, but I think you get the idea.

The biggest change in 2012 for me was the rise of Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Sure, I still bought plenty of music from Amazon or Google, but an increasing amount of the stuff I picked up came from the individual himself. I mean, why would I expect the Fez soundtrack to occupy a spot in Amazon’s mp3 store? Thanks to Bandcamp, I can just pick it up almost directly from the artist.

2012 also marked the year that genre walls were officially smashed for me. I think the only stuff I can’t really tolerate is noise metal. Just about everything else can penetrate my cold, black heart and move me to sing and dance.

I certainly never would have guessed that I’d be listening to so much hip hop and R&B back when I started this blog in 2008. It was all punk, rock, and ska, but now I cast a much wider net.

Top Artists of 2012

1. The Beatles (409)

This has been a mainstay of every list since the catalog re-release back in 2009. There’s not really much more to say about how incredible this band is so I’ll instead comment on the fact that I listened to them ~1,100 fewer times this year than last. I really spread out my music time this year…

2. The Weeknd (333)

I can’t remember what month it was when I discovered the trio of mixtapes just waiting for me online, but I will say that The Weeknd opened my eyes to R&B in a way I would have thought impossible. Without him I guarantee you that Frank Ocean would not be on this list. Everything about his music is simultaneously sleazy and sexy and so wrong it almost feels right. “High For This”, “Wicked Games”, and “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” are all stunners.

3. Sambomaster (サンボマスター) (326)

Another mainstay ever since my Japan trip. My understanding of the lyrics approaches zero, but I feel like I understand everything Takeshi Yamaguchi is trying to say with that heartfelt, almost mournful, sandpapery voice. As cheesy as it sounds, it speaks to my soul, man.

4. Frank Ocean (270)

Think about this: I didn’t get channel ORANGE until November. Everybody’s talking about this record, I know, but allow me to say that Ocean penned and crooned the best album of the year. Nothing tops this in 2012, guys. Nothing.

5. Jonathan Coulton (269)

Some people would have you believe that Coulton is a novelty singer best enjoyed in small doses. Some people are wrong. Coulton’s earlier work may lean on a geeky, nerdy motif, but, like I said last year, Artificial Heart really takes him to a new level.

6. Disasterpiece (240)

I listened to a lot of game sountracks this year thanks to the ubiquity and ease of Bandcamp. Disasterpiece’s moody, quasi-ambient work on Fez proved spooky, lonely, and mournful while also igniting that spark for adventure. It’s all synth-y, but the notes never feel quite right, which is pretty much what Fez is all about.

7. Yoko Kanno (202)

I bet you’re thinking that this is all Cowboy Bebop music. You’d be wrong. Kanno’s work on the jazz tunes in Kids on the Slope opened my eyes to a genre I’d ignored for most of my life. That medley in the culture festival? Pure. Magic.

8. George & Jonathan (184)

One of their tunes was the theme to Polygon’s podcast, The Besties, and the album, Beautiful Lifestyle, struck just the right balance of playful and fun without getting obnoxious.

9. Regina Spektor (152)

I fell for What We Saw from the Cheap Seats as hard as a person could for an album. “All the Rowboats”, “Firewood”, and “How” are all so stunningly beautiful that I want to be listening to them right now…In fact, I think I’ll go put them on.

10. Rodrigo y Gabriela (151)

The first entry that confuses me about being on this list. I still dig their stuff, but I don’t really remember listening to it that much this year.

11. The Civil Wars (136)

I’m really worried about the state of this band now that they’ve canceled their tours. What will I do without Joy Williams’ beautiful voice? I hope they figure it out.

12. Kanye West (129)

The current king of hip hop, as far as I’m concerned. Yeezy goes big. Even though I haven’t loved his collab stuff as much as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I can’t help but come back to this guy time and time again.

13. Fall Out Boy (126)

So few bands know how to craft a tune as instantly catchy as these guys. Too bad they broke up.

14. Eirik Suhrke (119)

You may be wondering who this guy is. He did the music for Spelunky, a genius take on the Mega Drive soundchip that gives me that extra push to hit retry on the off chance that I get that sweet sax tune in the Ice Caves.

15. Tsunku (つんく♂) (114)

If I had properly tagged my Rhythm Heaven Fever music earlier in the year this number would be much higher. Academically I understand why other people might not love all the music in Rhythm Heaven, but in my heart I can’t understand why any awesome person would hate it.

16. Childish Gambino (113)

Part of that hip hop kick this year. Donald Glover is pretty awesome.

17. Nintendo (98)

You know what? I think that this 98 is supposed to be added to the Tsunku tally above. Hear that, Tsunku? You should be 7th.

17. Jim Guthrie (98)

The composer to the Superbrothers soundtrack knows how to make a sweet groove. Seriously, go check it out.

19. OK Go (97)

“Needing/Getting” will always be a favorite of mine because I’m a hopeless romantic (emphasis on hopeless).

20. Jasper Byrne (95)

The Lone Survivor soundtrack is responsible for this play count. It was equal parts creepy and beautiful and I couldn’t stay away last winter/spring.

21. Alex Cuba (91)

Man, that afro is cool, isn’t it? There’s a clarity and richness to his voice that soothes me and makes me feel funky.

22. Hannibal Buress (88)

Is your name really Hannibal? These plays are thanks to two of my favorite stand-up albums that I got this year. That Buress dude is pretty funny, y’all.

22. Ana Tijoux (88)

Saw her live this year. That was awesome. Her ability to spit rhymes in Spanish is mind boggling to me.

24. Juan Luis Guerra (85)

I wonder what percentage of these come from “Niagara en bicicleta”? (Answer: ~26%)

25. Kendrick Lamar (84)

I picked up good kid, m.A.A.d city at the same time (or close to it) as channel ORANGE and figured that it would definitely win, play-wise. Didn’t quite go like that, but trust that Kendrick Lamar’s rhymes are equally awesome. Definitely check out that disc.

Top 10 Tracks of 2012

1. The Weeknd – “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” (23)

It all sounds so drug-addled and sexy, but in a dirty way. This was the first track I heard by The Weeknd and the rest is history.

2. Juan Luis Guerra – “El Niagara en bicicleta” (22)

Quite possibly my favorite song ever? I honestly have no idea how it didn’t make the list last year.

3. George & Jonathan – “Little Marcus” (21)

The aforementioned former theme to The Besties. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it’s super pleasant. A great little tune.

4. Carla Morrison – “Compartir” (20)

I would have expected “Una salida” to have this spot, but this is also a fantastic love song by a beautiful vocalist. Carla Morrison has this sweet, delicate voice that just breaks your heart while you listen to her. I absolutely love her and this song.

4. Neon Indian – “Polish Girl” (20)

I think I own two Neon Indian songs, but this chillwave track puts me in a spaced out place where I can’t not love it. Put a gun to my head and I wouldn’t be able to describe what makes this song so special, but I think it really does speak for itself.

6. Regina Spektor – “Small Town Moon” (19)

It probably ended up with the most plays by virtue of being the first track on her new album, but “Small Town Moon” is no slouch. It perfectly sets the mood for a thoughtful, beautiful album.

6. George & Jonathan – “Street Monsters” (19)

There’s really no good explanation for how this track got up here. It’s funky and it’s quick and I guess it got lucky compared to the rest of the album.

6. Frank Ocean – “Bad Religion”, “Pilot Jones”, & “Pyramids” (19)

And the list closes out with my three favorite tracks from channel ORANGE. All three of these are perfect in their own way. Be it the soulful poetry of “Bad Religion”, the simple hook of “Pilot Jones”, or that sexy electrofunk of the first half of the epic “Pyramids”, they all land so unbelievably perfectly on my ears that I’m shocked they’re not higher up on the list.

2011 in Music [F]
Jan 3rd, 2012 by Dan

last.fm t-shirt

Thanks to last.fm, I can tell you what my personal favorite music of 2011 has been!

Top 10 Artists of 2011

1. The Beatles (1,156)

I’d say the number of tracks in my collection that are by The Beatles or by the Rx Bandits far outweighs the number of other tracks. It’s not a coincidence, since I love both bands, but I don’t think you’ll see these positions change much in the future.

2. RX Bandits (571)

The Bandits split up this year. It’s tragic, but that concert was amazing and I’ll always love their music.

3. Jonathan Coulton (343)

Coulton’s new release sparked way more interest in his work than I’d had last year. Adding in the band allowed his music to grow in a great way.

4. Arctic Monkeys (328)

The Monkeys are a pretty solid band and I got to see them live for the first time in 2011. Their new tracks are pretty solid, especially “Black Treacle”

5. Sambo Master (277)

I’ve written thousands of words about why I love this J-Rock band. They’ve got so much energy and emotion in their lyrics (that I can’t even understand!) and their place on this list is well-earned.

6. Kanye West (185)

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an incredible album. It got lots of playtime throughout the year, but the final push that put it above OK Go happened as a result of the Giant Bombcast and their obsession with “Power”. I literally listened gave Kanye the listens he needed to get #6 in the last two days of the year.

7. OK Go (184)

OK Go is just a solid rock band. They’ve got great lyrics, great hooks, and they’re always great fun to listen to.

8. Rita Indiana & Los Misterios (172)

I ran into this fantastic merengue band thanks to Alt Latino. Rita makes merengue even more frantic and fun than you remember it being and I love her for it.

9. Sondre Lerche (163)

Everyone’s favorite Norwegian crooner. I like this guy because he’s got a clean

10. Janelle Monáe (161)

Janelle gets funkier than any human has any right to. Her latest, The ArchAndroid, was so well put together that I’m on the edge of my seat to see what she does next. A definite can’t miss.

11. Vampire Weekend (154)

I think these listens were front-ended on 2011. Not that I dislike VW now, but I can’t remember listening to their stuff all that much in recent months. I like busting out Contra in the cold winter to warm me up, but it’s been a mild one so far.

12. The Civil Wars (133)

Joy Williams and John Paul White have one of the most incredible duos I’ve ever been lucky enough to listen to. Their voices just go so well together and have this longing quality that is surprising considering they’re both happily married…to other people.

13. Alex Cuba (132)

This Cuban-Canadian crooner makes pretty chill, easy listening Spanish music that I can’t get enough of.

14. Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka, Hiroshi Kanazu, Toshiyuki Ueno (127)

This would be the staff behind the music of Mother games. I picked up the soundtracks to the second and third game, but they’re so massive that this team rose quickly.

15. Wild Flag (123)

One of my favorite new bands of the past year, I still remember queuing for two hours (to no avail) on Record Store Day for a chance at their single. Their album turned out fantastically (easily one of the best of 2011) and seeing them live was awesome.

Top Tracks of 2011

1. Rita Indiana & Los Misterios – “El juidero” (27)

My go-to track for merengue that makes my legs want to move. “El juidero” was just fantastic and I remember putting it on all the time just to get my heartbeat up.

2. RX Bandits – “…And The Battle Begun” (25)

I have so many versions of the tracks on …And the Battle Begun that I listen to with such regularity that this song not appearing on this list would be weird.

3. RX Bandits – “Only For The Night” (24)

My favorite song makes the list? Shocker!

4. April Smith and The Great Picture Show – “Colors”, The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger – “Jardin du Luxembourg”, & The Book of Mormon Cast – “All-American Prophet” (22)

April Smith is awesome, we already know that, but I also fell in love with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s little duo thanks to NPR. We also can’t forget how awesome The Book of Mormon‘s soundtrack is. Great stuff.

7. Wild Flag – “Glass Tambourine” & Jonathan Coulton – “Nemeses (Featuring John Roderick)” (21)

The first single of both band’s discs from this year got lots of listens from me in anticipation of the full tracks.

9. RX Bandits – “Decrescendo”, The Beatles – “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”, Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich+Fussible – “I Count the Ways”, & Wild Flag – “Future Crimes” (19)

“Decrescendo” closes off a bunch of Rx Bandits recordings I own. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” is my favorite part of the Abbey Road medley. “I Count the Ways” is my second favorite Nortec song on that album. “Future Crimes” is the other single from Wild Flag released before their debut album.

13. The Beatles – “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, Barenaked Ladies – “Enid”, & OK Go – “WTF?” (17)

I listen to “Enid” a lot. Mostly when I’m mad at a girl, but sometimes just to get the heartbeat up. “WTF?” is not my favorite songs on OK Go’s new album, but it was their first single and it was free. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is one of The Beatles’ late, weirder songs, but man do I love it. So creepy and weird and awesome.

My 2010 in Music [Feedback]
Dec 31st, 2010 by Dan

last.fm t-shirt

Thanks to last.fm, I can tell you what my personal favorite music of 2010 has been!

Top 10 Artists of 2010

1. The Beatles (989 listens)

The re-release of the entire catalog reinvigorated my love for The Beatles as I more thoroughly explored their catalog and loved songs I’d never realized were by the Fab Four. Heaping praise on The Beatles is almost ridiculous, so I’ll leave it at that.

2. April Smith and The Great Picture Show (385)

This one doesn’t make as much sense to me. I think there might be some miscounting by one of my tagging services, but, regardless, I’ve loved April Smith since the first time I heard her singing “Terrible Things” on All Songs Considered. She was absolutely my breakout sensation of this year. There will be more on her in the New Year…

3. Rx Bandits (370)

“We get it, Dan. You love the Bandits, even though almost no one on earth has heard of them…”

4. Arctic Monkeys (295)

Kees van Dijkhuizen’s fantastic Youtube video Cinema 2009 featured “Crying Lightning” and I was hooked. Then I gave Favourite Worst Nightmare and I knew that these kids from Sheffield really knew what they were doing. We’ll see if 2011 will bring a new album.

5. Sambomaster (268)

“Shut up about Sambomaster already, Dan.”

6. The Zutons (179)

A fine band whose plays came mostly because I made “Put A Little Aside” the anthem for visiting a girl I was quite taken with. It’s a song about a guy having an affair, so I’m proving that we really only hear what we want to out of our favorite songs.

7. Jonathan Coulton (177)

Everyone’s favorite nerdy singer of songs about robots, monkeys, zombies, and evil geniuses continues to get tons of plays from me. Great stuff.

8 Glee Cast (165)

No comment.

9. Lucky Boys Confusion (163)

An old staple that will never get old. Too bad they broke up.

10. Girl Talk (147)

Talk about making a fast impression. With only two months of the year to make an impact, Girl Talk still finds itself in my top ten. Props.

Top Tracks of 2010

1. Felicia Day – “Penny’s Song” (88 listens)

Whoa, really? Wow. Didn’t realize I loved this song that much. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is one of my favorite musicals, but “Penny’s Song” isn’t really my favorite track from the movie. Oh well, I’m still happy to see this top the list.

2. Glee Cast (featuring Kristin Chenowith) – “Fire” (79)

I love this song. I’m just barely not embarrassed to admit it.

3. Sambomaster – “Ohベイビー” (70)

More Sambomaster love.

4. Stars – “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” (68)

Another song I wouldn’t have heard if I never listened to All Songs Considered. Their episode on break-up songs featured this track by Stars and it blew me away. Always makes me think of Ashley. Nearly makes me cry plenty of times. This song is brutal and awesome at the same time.

5. Glee Cast (featuring Kristin Chenowith) – “One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not a Home” (65)

Kristin Chenowith’s voice is amazing.

6. Rx Bandits – “Mientras La Veo Soñar” (60)

A great song on a great 2009 album.

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – “Not About Debra” and April Smith and the Great Picture Show “Wow and Flutter” (58)

Probably my favorite song by LBC and one of April Smith’s best. Smith currently uses “Wow and Flutter” as the last song in her set and the band all plays fantastic solos. Love both of these songs.

9. The Zutons – “Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done!)” (55)

It’s weird to have this so high when I love at least four or five Zutons songs more than this one. Guess that’s how it goes when you do a lot of random shuffling.

10. April Smith and The Great Picture Show – “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (54)

Brilliant song, because, really, “If you’re just drop dead gorgeous, you should just drop dead”

Sharing [F/FB]
Mar 9th, 2010 by Dan

In a sense, doing this blog is a really strange thing for me. I’m more than happy to share my opinion with anyone about the music, movies, or games that I love, but I get nearly crippling anxiety when it comes to actually compelling them to sit down and experience the media I’m trying to recommend. It makes no sense, of course. Why would it matter if they like it or not, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s life or death or that they’ll stop being my friend, but I still get nervous.

The weird thing is that I don’t ever quite reach the point of comfort with even my closest friends. Recommending stuff to my brothers is usually pretty simple since I know them so well. It’s an uphill battle most of the time to even convince them that what I’m offering is worth spending time experiencing, but once they do, I’m right maybe 90% of the time about whether or not they’ll like it. There’s almost no stress involved unless you take away that family element…

If it was because of a specific, tragic event, I must have repressed it enough that I don’t even remember it, but I can honestly say that there are few things worse than that feeling you start to get in your gut when you can visibly see that they’re just really not feeling it. It was just a few weeks ago that I was in Chicago hanging out with a friend of mine who attends Northwestern.

“Duffy, you’ve got to hear these guys. This is the perfect music for warming you up in winter. They’re brilliant.”

The disc in question was Vampire Weekend’s latest, Contra. It’s this crazy indie rock album with these great worldbeat sounds. I don’t really understand why they call worldbeat worldbeat when they mean Afro-Caribbean, but that’s just me, I guess.

“Yeah, sure. Pop it in.”

It all goes south from there. Knowing myself, I know not to look directly at someone who is listening to something I’m making them listen to. It’s agonizing. The silence from her side of the car is deafening. I start counting the number of times that “Horchata” calls out that Koenig is drinking horchata in December. Her hands lower the volume knob twice during the first song. I try to shake it off.

“Eh…well I love it. It’s got a different sound to it and that’s really what attracts me to it, but I can see where you might not.”

She hadn’t even said a word, but I was defeated. The rest of the trip I let her control the radio as we alternated between country music, Lady Gaga, and Ke$ha (and the musical part of my soul died just a little bit).

I loved Sambomaster before I knew I loved Sambomaster, but when I read “changing the world in japanese“, a fantastic article about the band by tim rogers, I finally learned the band’s name and heard their best song. It’s hard to justify how much I love the band since I can’t understand a single lyric that Takashi Yamaguchi is saying, but the band’s music does mean a lot to me and I did my best to evangelize “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru” as best I could to my friends and family. Dave took to it instantly and even the difficult-to-please Duffy thought that the music was “alright”, but I was stonewalled when I sent it along to my good friend Min.

“Yeah, I just don’t like music in a language I can’t understand.”

I’m sure that part of the whole anxiety thing comes from your run-of-the-mill fear of rejection, but I think that it might also stem from the perhaps too extreme emotional connection that I make with my media. Many of my strongest memories are tied to the media I consume and I sometimes make these connections almost instantaneously.

One week before I went to Chicago, I was driving up to Ithaca with Min to meet up with some old friends. We were listening to podcasts and All Music Considered, one of NPR’s finest podcasts, came up with their Valentine’s Day episode featuring breakup songs. Each of the staff members presented a breakup song that had particular influence on their lives and one chose the Stars song “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”.

“Wow. That was amazing,” I told Min.

“Yeah. A friend of mine sent that to me in high school.”

I didn’t tell Min that the song touched me in a profound way, but I think he could tell from my reaction. If Min hadn’t been there in the car, I might have found myself crying. It just brought back so many memories about my long and damaging relationship with Ashley that it was overwhelming.

I’m not sorry I met you
I’m not sorry it’s over
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save

It could be that my reluctance to share is preventing someone from learning about media that they’d never heard of before, (I think back to all the times I’ve successfully shared Arrested Development with friends), but then there are times when my nature is proven correct. I correctly balked at exposing my father to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but he watched it anyway at the insistence of my brothers. He just didn’t get it.

There’s nothing like feeling that connection with someone over a shared experience. Having these interests in common gives us something to talk about and keeps conversation interesting. Maybe one day I’ll get over this fear of sharing. God knows I’m trying by writing this blog most days, even if I try to keep it a secret from most of the people I know.

My Favorite Bands/Albums/Musical Concepts of the 2000s [Feedback]
Dec 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s really been tough coming up with the music that has most resonated with me in the 2000s. Wanting to represent the entire decade is tough, since I don’t really find the music that I used to listen to before I went to college all that good. Once I had more money and exposure beyond the mainstream acts I was familiar with in high school, I feel my tastes really changed up some. This list is definitely not representative of the actual best bands of the decade, they’re just bands that had a strong effect on me and my musical development.

I’ll start with a band who I was introduced to my sophomore year of high school, Lucky Boys Confusion.

Lucky Boys Confusion

Notable Albums: Throwing the Game (2001) and Commitment (2003)

This one came to me courtesy of my friend Kristin who brought a burnt copy of Throwing the Game up to Tampa with her for a summer visit my sophomore year of high school (2002). The band isn’t anything too special that’s about to revolutionize music or anything, they’re just a solid rock band from Chicago with a great sound. My favorite songs by the band are “Not About Debra”, a Latin-infused song about a girl in the wrong relationship, “Do You Miss Me? [Killians]”, an upbeat cover of the freestyle classic by the same name (sans the [Killians]) by Jocelyn Enriquez, “Sunday Afternoon”, a nice reggae-type break from the usual uptempo beats that LBC is known for.

The band never really saw much mainstream success. “Hey Driver” was their most popular song and actually made it into some video games, movies, and got some airtime, but they broke up only moderately more famous than they were when they were first signed.

Five Iron Frenzy

Notable Album: The End is Near/Here (2003)

As a primarily ’90s act, I was hesitant to include FIF in my list of my favorite music of the aughts, but their musical swan song had a major effect on my musical development, so I couldn’t rightly leave them out. Beyond just the CD, Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, Winners Never Quit, was the first time I recognized that a live show was well worth attending. Before that I’d seen music live a few times and listened to a live CD here or there, but found them to be sub par. I was annoyed that the songs varied from the usual pace and intricacies of the album version and seemed to have lower quality. It all changed that night.

The small, intimate club atmosphere put me up close with fans for the first time (my previous concerts had been mega-stadium deals) with a band playing an emotional final tour. I also learned the best part about a live show: the new ways in which a band mixes up their music. I got to listen to the amazing FIF Medley (also on The End is Here), which, aside from it luckily being on a CD, I probably would never hear again. Ever since that night in Orlando, concerts became a part of my musical experience and the effect that FIF had on me is apparent when you realize how much of my music is upbeat, uptempo, and filled with brass sections. They may not be the best band on this list, but they’re one of the most important ones.

Rx Bandits

Notable Albums: The Resignation (2003), …And the Battle Begun (2006), Mandala (2009)

I didn’t realize what I got when my friend Daniela gave me a copy of The Resignation for Christmas back in 2004. We listened to it and she brilliantly pinpointed “Mastering the List” as my favorite track on the CD, but I didn’t get just how good the CD was for two years, a testament to how music tastes can drastically change over short periods of time. When I finally started listening in earnest in 2006, I think the best adjective to describe the experience was revelatory.

Of all the bands on this list, I think I’ve gone on and on about the Bandits the most on this blog and for good reason. They are talented, their music is rich and full, their lyrics are pretty solid, if not a little too hippie, and their dedication to an organic sound seems unparalleled in today’s overproduced soundscape. If there’s one album on this post that you choose to listen to, it should be …And the Battle Begun. It’s my favorite album of all time (as of 2009) and I don’t think there’s a single stinker on the whole disc.

Their best songs are “Mastering the List”, “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Decrescendo”, “In Her Drawer”, “Only for the Night” (my favorite on the list), “Tainted Wheat”, “White Lies”, and “Mientras la Veo Soñar.”

If there was one criticism I’d have for the band, it’s that they got rid of their horn section between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. It doesn’t mean there’s no more brass in their newer work, it just means that it’s no longer a regular part of the band. Shame that they’re losing it, but they claim it has allowed them to open up and improve their song complexity.

Green Day

Notable Album: American Idiot (2004)

Another band that hails primarily from the previous decade, but whose 2004 release marked a huge turning point for the band. Yeah, Dookie is probably their most famous album, but American Idiot went and upped their pop relevance to eleven. The rock opera heralded in the “new” Green Day and turned the band into something far beyond its punk rock roots singing about weed and bumming around. For me, it was a great concept album whose lyrics seemed bold (I’m pretty sure they were early on the Bush backlash train) and far deeper than “Longview.” I don’t listen to the album much today, since I played it out my freshman year, but I’ll still let “Give Me Novacaine” or “Extraordinary Girl” play any time they come up on shuffle.

Relient K

Notable Album: Mmhmm (2004)

When I think of my freshman year at Cornell, American Idiot and Mmhmm are the soundtrack that plays in the background. I listened to both CDs many times on my way too and from the townhouses and the engineering quad, not to mention through my computer’s speakers. Mmhmm represents the transition from Relient K from a slightly niche, Christian music band to a more popular, mainstream act with its understated message (it seems that they returned to their more obvious Christian references with Five Score and Seven Years Ago) and their sound had matured to the best I’d heard since their debut album.

The album is full of some great songs, but my personal favorites are “High of 75”, because it cheered me up in the miserable Ithaca weather, “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”, because I love sappy love songs, and “Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”, because it resonated with my seriously rocky and messed up relationship at the time. Beyond that, the rest of the album is also great, but I can’t just list all the tracks now, can I?

The Zutons

Notable Albums: Who Killed…… The Zutons? (2004), You Can Do Anything (2008)

This one comes straight from my old high school friend Michelle. A fan of the quirky, indie scene, she recommended that I check out this band of Liverpudlians and I was not disappointed. You almost can’t go wrong with me if you’ve got brass or a saxophone in your band and The Zutons have one saxophonist adding her own distinct flavor to their already distinct rock grooves. Their music is unique and just great to listen to, especially when you get Abi Harding’s voice harmonizing with Dave McCabe’s on a lot of their numbers and the band’s sound has improved greatly from Who Killed on to You Can Do Anything. Their best songs, “Pressure Point”, “Havana Gang Brawl”, “Valerie”, “You Could Make The Four Walls Cry”, “Put A Little Aside”, and “Freak” are all so different, but all so much fun to listen to, even if they’ll probably never get any airtime stateside.

OK Go

Notable Album: Oh No (2005)

There’s a reason the phrase “sophomore slump” is part of the vernacular and it’s not often that a band not only releases a far superior second album, but does so with a significant change in sound. At a live show I saw them play at Cornell, OK Go outright stated that they were going for a safe, pop sound on their first album to try and appeal to the masses. Listening to it yields some decent tracks, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to agree. It’s cautious and it probably got them a record deal, but it’s not great. In three years, they turned around, completely matured their sound, and launched one of my favorite albums of the decade, Oh No. Almost everyone has heard “Here It Goes Again” or seen the treadmill video and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would rather listen to “Get Over It.” They got that much better.

While I’m mentioning the videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Oh No also represents a creative turn for the band with it’s quirky, interesting, low-budget, high awesomeness music videos. “Do What You Want” has a more typical look, but “Here It Goes Again” and “A Million Ways” have hilariously awesome and indie videos a tradition they’ve melded with budget to create their newest video for “WTF”, which you already know I love. I don’t think that the viral video approach to music videos will take over the industry, but I don’t think you can say that they didn’t start something big with their Youtube-released video.

The whole album is pretty solid, but I’d also like to point out “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet” and “Let It Rain” as great tracks (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned). They’re two of the slower, more contemplative ones, but they just feel right to listen to.

Fall Out Boy

Notable Albums: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Folie à Deux (2008)

Yeah, they’re not the greatest band in history, but they’ve got some seriously catchy songs that I can’t help but enjoy. If their songs don’t make your toes tap, I’d seriously question whether or not you have a soul. FOB finally managed to break mainstream with their sophomore album, a CD filled with a neat take on pop and rock that’s just complex and different enough to pique my interests and just safe enough to be ok with the average Joe. Since then FOB continues to push into strange boundaries with its music borrowing from tons of genres and recording some solid tracks. I may not agree with their single selection (:cough: “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” SUCKS :cough:), but I’d say that 80-90% of their albums are filled with great tracks.

My favorites: “The Take Over, the Breaks Over”, “Hum Hallelujah”, “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More “Touch Me””, “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”, “She’s My Winona”, “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”, and “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”.

Matisyahu

Notable Album: Live at Stubb’s (2005)

I had the chance to see Matisyahu my freshman year at Cornell, but I had no idea who he was. The posters were up one day advertising a Hasidic Jew singing reggae and so I chuckled and went on with my day. Little did I know that a year later I’d hear a track from his live album in my ex’s brother Bobby’s car and fall in love with his brand of religious reggae. That’s the catch, of course, if Jewish-themed music offends you, Matisyahu is not for you. Then again, aside from allusions to scripture, isn’t reggae really all about peace and love? Matisyahu’s music may be about the Old Testament God, but its a celebration of love, life, and peace that will undoubtedly make you smile. My favorite songs by Matisyahu are “King Without a Crown”, “Aish Tamid”, and “Chop ‘Em Down”

Wolfmother

Notable Album: Wolfmother (2006)

Ever feel like the days of classic rock are gone? You must not be listening to Wolfmother. We’re talking straight up 1970s, Satan’s music here. From their ridiculous throwback album covers to the solid guitar solos, these guys clearly never gave up on the past and they want to bring it to the youth of today. They sound so classic that I didn’t notice for months after playing their songs in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band that the year was post 2000. If you’re ever craving a true hard rock sound, look these guys up. They’ll rock your socks off.

Best songs: “Woman”, “Joker & the Thief”

Incubus

Notable Album: Light Grenades (2006)

I know what you’re thinking. Incubus, really? Yes, really. Light Grenades was a solid album. Their best work in the decade, really. I happen to really love “Dig”, “Light Grenades”, “Anna Molly”, and “Paper Shoes”. It’s my list, leave me alone.

Streetlight Manifesto

Notable Albums: Keasbey Nights (2006), Somewhere in the Between (2007)

Probably my favorite ska act and one with kind of an ugly history. If you’ve ever heard of Catch-22, you’ve probably heard their most famous album, Keasbey Nights (1998) and the vocals of Tomas Kalnoky. At some point Kalnoky and the rest of the members had a major falling out and the band mostly split up. Kalnoky started up Streetlight Manifesto and the band gained notoriety quickly while Catch-22 morphed into a new band, but still played Kalnoky’s old songs from Keasbey Nights. Things were pretty dicey and ugly for a time too, because the bands traded lyrical jabs on their subsequent albums and, eventually, it seems that Kalnoky decided it was worth re-recording one of the seminal albums of third-wave ska, hence the Streetlight Manifesto edition of Keasbey Nights. As the owner of both editions of the album, let’s just say that the extra time and money made an already good album great. Kalnoky’s music work in Streetlight is sharp, the horns are solid and the guitars are great, creating a sound that you can’t help jamming to. Their best work comes out in “Riding the Fourth Wave”, “Keasbey Nights”, “Would You Be Impressed”, and “Somewhere in the Between”. Ska can be hit and miss, I know that most people don’t like it, but you’ve gotta check these guys out, they’ve refined the genre to its best.

The Fratellis

Notable Album: Costello Music (2006)

The UK makes the list again with Scottish rock band The Fratellis. Their music is so full of energy and that unique, intangible British music quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band after playing their songs in Rock Band for the first time. “Henrietta”, “Chelsea Dagger”, and “Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes” are my favorites from the disc, but there are plenty more where that came from with a mix of wild rock and slower, British-sounding songs to break up the beat and calm the heartbeat. A band definitely worth checking out.

Jarabe de Palo

Notable Album: Adelantando (2007)

I’ve listened to a lot of Spanish music in my lifetime. It’s a byproduct of my heritage, but most of what got airtime when I was a kid was salsa, merengue, the occasional bachata, and (nowadays) reggaeton. While they’re all plenty fun genres to listen to, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be found in the strict confines of their musical definitions. Then Daniela went and introduced me to yet another great band, Jarabe de Palo. They’re not what you’d call typical Latin music, in fact because they’ve gone and formed a rock band and it’s actually not half bad. It’s actually pretty common to see other countries try and adopt American musical styles, but the results are usually pretty ghastly. Thankfully, Jarabe de Palo avoids this common shortcoming of foreign rock and is actually some pretty great music. His best tracks (that I know) are “Me gusta como eres”, “Dejame vivir”, and “Estamos prohibidos”.

Jonathan Coulton

Notable Albums: Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004), Thing-a-Week 1-4 (2006)

In 2007 I played a game by Valve called Portal. Aside from being one of the best games in the history of gaming, it also featured one of the greatest songs in gaming at the end, “Still Alive”. That same Christmas, my ex-girlfriend’s brother (he makes a reappearance) showed me a youtube video of Coulton playing “RE: Your Brains”. Both were great, but in the hustle of the season, I failed to take notice of Coulton until about April or May of 2008. On a whim, I decided to check out Coulton’s work and bought his entire collection off of his website without listening to most of it. That day I took notice of the greatest Internet folk sensation to ever grace the web. Coulton’s music is mostly nerdy love songs and he himself has claimed that he needs to make an effort to write fewer melancholic love songs, but he’s also got songs about completely random things, like a tall tale about baseball’s first commissioner and how he dealt with the Black Sox Scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a song appropriately titled “Kenesaw Mountain Landis”) or one about the trials and tribulations of being a clown (“Bozo’s Lament”). Perhaps his greatest undertaking was his Thing-a-Week challenge, where he took it upon himself to write and produce one song every week, which actually produced some of his most famous songs like “RE: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey”.

Other than the songs I’ve already mentioned, my favorites include “Screwed”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Madelaine”, “Mandelbrot Set”, and “When You Go”, but I could list 10 or 20 more songs that are just as fantastic. Even better is that Coulton is all about Creative Commons and he understands the internet. He’s got an option to pay him some cash if you’ve already stolen his music and he’s more than happy to let you remix it or use it however you want, so long as you credit him. He’s truly a product of the Internet and a great musician to boot.

2007/2008 also brought two big concepts that changed the way I dealt with music and time. One thing, podcasting, is arguably not music, but it’s audio-related, so it’s worth mentioning. Before I had an iPod, I occasionally walked around campus with a CD player, but I mostly didn’t listen to much at all. After I got one and started getting podcasts, the way that information was relayed to me made a fundamental change and now I was learning about all of my hobbies and passions during my dead time walking around campus (and driving to work once I graduated). It’s pretty amazing to see that in a few short years which podcasts I’ve settled on and which ones I’ve moved on from as I struck a balance between too much (and a diminished ability to listen to anything but podcasts) and too little.

The other major musical revolution of the decade was the rise of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I first played Guitar Hero back in the summer of 2007 and I immediately fell in love. When word started to trickle in about Rock Band, I was initially skeptical, since I believed it to be a knockoff (I later learned that it was the true evolution of the series put forward by the true innovators behind the magic, Harmonix), but I eventually came around and pre-ordered the special edition for my xbox. That game meant a lot to me and it even changed some fundamental things about me. It’s also been one of the best ways for me to gain access to new music and has widened my musical tastes considerably.

Back to bands!

Anamanaguchi

Notable Album: Dawn Metropolis (2009)

I get why people might be skeptical about chiptunes. It’s 8-bit music coming out of retro sound chips and nine times out of ten, people use it to just remix video game music. Imagine my surprise when I read an article about Anamanaguchi on Kotaku by Leigh Alexander detailing how this Brooklyn band was making great strides. Their music is top notch and stands out from the crowd because they don’t just play a 1985 NES, they’ve also got a drummer, guitarist, and bassist thrown in there. The music may take its cues from some of the conventions set forth by the game composers of the 1980s, but their music is completely original and super catchy.

My favorites: “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”, “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

Sambomaster (サンボマスター)

Notable Albums: サンボマスターは君に語りかける (Sambomaster is Talking to You) (2005), 僕と君の全てをロックンロールと呼べ (Call everything that we (you and I) are ‘Rock n’ Roll’) (2006)

What’s an article on this blog without some sort of tim rogers mention? It was this year that I read “changing the world in japanese” on his blog LargePrimeNumbers, a treatise on rock music, Japan, and, most importantly, how Sambomaster was one of the most important bands playing in Japan. Listening to the track he had posted on that article, Romanized as “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”, I saw precisely what he was saying and became an instant Sambomaster fan. From that sandpaper, gravely voice to the emotion that is so obviously apparent through the language barrier, Sambomaster’s music speaks to a deep part of me. The guitars are stellar and interesting, the drumlines are solid, and Takashi Yamaguchi’s vocals just resonate and feel so right.

My favorite story about the band is that I’d actually heard their music back in 2005 as the fifth opening to the Naruto anime. I had no idea what the band was called or what the song was, but when I heard it, I immediately called it my favorite opening of the series and filed it in the back of my mind. Imagine the joy that returned to me when I was reading about Sambomaster on tim’s site and I downloaded and listened to “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”. As I recognized Yamaguchi’s distinct vocals and guitar style, I immediately began researching whether or not the same group was responsible. I was right and I’ve been smiling about the band ever since.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part XIV: The One Where We Miss Darvish [II]
Oct 20th, 2009 by Dan

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

This guy is rocking a sick happi. I wish I had one too.

Three days in Sapporo. One to fly in, one to catch a game, and one to fly out. We really only needed two, but the remote location and the unpredictability of flights and baseball game lengths warrant three. It’s a real shame too, because if we had rolled our arrival date into our baseball watching day, we would have seen Yu Darvish pitch.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that not getting to see Darvish pitch was the biggest disappointment I suffered the whole trip. Who wouldn’t want to see one of the best pitchers in the world toss a sweet victory after coming off the disabled list?

Disappointment aside, we had a whole day ahead of us before the game was set to start, so I decided to explore downtown Sapporo.

My usual procedure when I explore a downtown is to first head into any electronics store I can find to start off with something familiar. After seeing the many copies of Japanese MLB Power Pros littering the store shelves around me, I was getting antsy and seriously considering buying a Japanese Wii just to play the games. Thankfully, better judgment prevailed, since spending $250 just to play a $50 game is a little on the extreme side (the Wii also dropped in price by $50 after I left, I would have been super mad for overpaying).

Instead, I decided to go with the easy option and just pick up a copy of Professional Baseball Spirits 6 (or Pro Yakyū Spirits 6, depending on your source) a PS3 NPB baseball game since the PS3 is not region locked like the Wii. I also picked up some Sambomaster music, but that was the extent of my electronics store purchasing.

Maybe its just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I cant read.

Maybe it's just me, but I find Japanese electronics stores very intimidating. There are tons of products crammed into small spaces and lots of bright colors (usually red, but blue in this case) advertising things I can't read.

Since I was in Sapporo Station already, I thought I would check out the Sapporo Pokemon Center to see what it was like.

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Whos that Pokemon?!

A classy logo for the store. BONUS: Who's that Pokemon?!

It was what you might expect, just wall-to-wall Pokemon paraphernalia meant to lighten your wallets with cute plush Pikachu toys. The cool thing about the store was that, just like how the Nintendo Store in NYC is always stocked with Wiis, the Pokemon Center always has copies of Pokemon games, including the recently released Heart Gold and Soul Silver that were sold out everywhere else in Japan (believe me, I checked). They also had some pretty neat limited edition Nintendo DS consoles for sale that I didn’t buy.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

Each Pokemon Center Emblem features Pikachu and two other, unique Pokemon.

My Pokemon curiosity was sated, but it was time to grab a bite to eat. I went upstairs in the shopping center (the interesting thing about all Japanese department stores/shopping centers/malls is that they almost always have restaurants on the top floor) and sat down in a place that advertised English menus. The tonkatsu set I ordered came with rice covered with a sweet, but unpleasant (due to temperature differences) yam layer on top of it and miso soup and it was a pretty good meal.

On a scale of 1-10 Id rate it pretty good.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd rate it pretty good.

At the table with me was a man who spoke some English, so he took the opportunity to talk to me a bit. When I told him that I was in Japan to watch baseball, he brought up that Ichiro had just successfully hit his 200th hit in a season for nine straight seasons. I agreed with him that it was huge news, but I didn’t agree so much with his assurance that it wasn’t a big deal in the states. Sure, it was a MUCH bigger deal for the Japanese to have a player from their country break a longstanding American MLB record, but we didn’t exactly trivialize it, did we? (I guess we kind of did…? Did any of you even know about this before now?)

With hunger no longer an issue, my next task was to shop around and find some more souvenirs. I knew that one of my friends wanted a bento box and another a sake set, so I wandered down into the basement of the building I had just had lunch in and came upon a Seibu Loft store. Bob suggested to me that the best place to find a bento would be a department store, since a specialty store would just overcharge, so I wandered up to the cookware floor and eventually spotted the large bento area.

There were tons to choose from, from small, cute ones with pandas on them to more serious, spartan affairs with dark, muted colors. Many of them even had chopsticks to match their color schemes. I found a simple pastel colored box with matching chopsticks and continued my hunt for the sake set.

Before I found the sake glasses, I came across some sweet chopsticks.

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

Owning a set of Carp chopsticks would be so awesome, but...

That’s right, NPB-themed chopsticks, a set for every team. My mind rushed as I thought about the gift possibilities. I wanted a set, of course, but would Eric appreciate them? He’s certainly got a ton of chopsticks already and no love for NPB teams…hey, waitaminute! That’s right, each set of chopsticks cost ¥1365 (¥1300 + 5% consumption tax for those of you astute readers who noticed the smaller number on the price tag below the actual price). It was far too much to pay for chopsticks, no matter how cool it would be to have the Carp represented on them. I really have no idea why they’re so expensive, but perhaps the label on the back of the sticks, representing the life cycle of these chopsticks might be an illustration of the reason they’re so expensive.

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

From the dirt to the hands of the ballplayer, then straight to your hands!

If this cute little cycle on the back of the packaging is meant to be accurate, then these chopsticks come from broken bats used in NPB games. That’s a big if! Beyond that, it’s still a huge ripoff to pay so much for one pair of sticks.

I found a nice sake set, paid for my goods, and wandered around Sapporo for a bit before heading home. On the way home, I noticed a nice park on the right. It seemed to be populated by a bunch of employees on breaks, which looked like an awesome idea. If I had the ability to eat a nice lunch or take a quick break outside my building in a park, I think I’d totally be on top of that.

Theyve got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

They've got to enjoy it while they can. Cooler weather was already hitting Sapporo when I was there.

Another neat thing I noticed on the way back was that Sapporo seemed to have more bicycle traffic than any other city I’d seen in Japan. Almost every sidewalk in the city that allowed it was filled with the bicycles of the many employees who rode to work that day. It seemed like most of them were unlocked too, which seemed mighty trusting, but that’s Japan for you, I guess.

After a quick stopover at the hotel, it was time to head out to the Sapporo Dome for the evening’s game. The route was fairly simple: take the subway, switch lines, get off, and follow the crowds to the dome. It was a cakewalk and it would have been a nice walk, if it weren’t for the rain.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but its still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

Dan and I were in the stop for the Sapporo Dome, but it's still a 10 minute walk to the dome from here.

After getting thoroughly soaked (man am I glad I brought my jacket with me), we eventually saw the Sapporo Dome in the distance. Let’s just say it’s got a rather bizarre façade and leave it at that.

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

It looks like a UFO or a giant metal space slug or something...

I popped into the gift shop to get myself a Yu Darvish Fighters jersey (I got the gray Away jerseys because they say “Nippon-Ham” on them instead of “Fighters”) and look around. The store also had a great shirt that had some baseball terms written in both English and Japanese in red text on a black shirt. I decided I must have one, so I got one.

The best shot of the field Ive got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that its difficult to get a good picture that isnt ruined by the super strong lights.

The best shot of the field I've got. Lighting in the Sapporo Dome is such that it's difficult to get a good picture that isn't ruined by the super strong lights.

Entering the Dome was much more pleasant than the Tokyo Dome. My ears didn’t pop and the temperature inside was well below the 80s. In fact, it was borderline chilly inside the stadium, but that might have been due to the water evaporating off of my clothing.

One of the stadiums employees.

One of the stadium's employees.

Since the Sapporo Dome houses more than one sport and team, its concessions and facilities don’t completely reflect the Fighters. There are plenty of signs, but nothing is themed. The place feels a lot like a gigantic airplane hangar that someone decided to play baseball inside. The corridors are unnecessarily huge and sparse, making the place feel cavernous, empty, and dark, but the field itself is very well lit and rather nice despite all the aesthetic issues with its corridors.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

Remember how sparse the Fighters cheering section was at that Lions game? This dwarfs it many times over.

If there was one major area that I’d say the Fighters suffer, it’s that the team is too remote. Like the Hawks, they’re the only team on their island, but unlike the Hawks, you can’t get to Sapporo via train. It’s plane or nothing, so when the team travels, it’s much harder for a dedicated cheer section to follow. Conversely, it’s a lot harder for a team to represent its own colors in Sapporo. One would have to wonder how high attendance would be if the Fighters were a Central League team and they played the Tigers. It seems like Tigers fans flood any ballpark that their team is at, but would they go all the way to Sapporo to prove their dedication?

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever youre supposed to call them.

My first time using a set of thunder sticks or spirit sticks or whatever you're supposed to call them.

This game marked the first time I got my hands on thunder sticks (or spirit sticks or whatever you’re supposed to call them), which was a lot of fun. Clapping isn’t difficult, but it does wear on your hands if you’ve got to do it all game. The sticks do a great job of projecting noise and protecting hands, which is probably why they became so popular. I would love for them to catch on in the states, if for no other reason than that I hate seeing people swing towels around like idiots to be like the Steelers fans.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

This dude was posing in the stands before the game. I snapped a shot before he (she?) noticed me and threw up a peace sign.

In the end, the Fighters won 5-2 and great fun was had by all. We had a flight to catch in the morning, so I wasn’t really interested in going out and getting crazy, so we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

A presser celebrating the Fighters victory.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part III: Play Ball! [II]
Sep 6th, 2009 by Dan

Jet lag is always a bit difficult to overcome, but when you’ve flown to the other side of the world, the body really doesn’t know what to do with itself. So it came to pass that I wrote the whole second half of Part II of this travelogue at 0600 after a half hour of tossing and turning, despite being on almost no sleep. This third part comes straight from my exhausted fingers to you, starting before the first Giants game and continuing after getting back to the hotel.

Our bright morning begins at 0830 for a quick pre-trip briefing. Dave and I quickly learn that we are most definitely the youngest members of the group. There are maybe four or five people on the tour younger than 30 and certainly none in their early twenties like us. Bob thankfully runs a rather loose ship, allowing us to mostly do what we want throughout the day instead of being forced to do one thing at all times. We meet up for trains and ballgames and that’s about it. Once the main tour departs, I won’t even have that, since Bob and Mayumi plan to head off on their own.

Mayumi offered to head to Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and Dave and I decided to go along. Our hotel is near private railway lines and the Tokyo Metro, so we hopped aboard, allowing me to experience the metro firsthand. It most resembles the DC Metro, since it requires you to pay a fare based on how far you travel, which is rather unfortunate, but the trains arrive almost 800 times faster and more regularly, so the comparison clearly only goes so far.

Sensō-ji’s main features are the iconic giant lanterns that adorn the center of each of the gates of the temple. In between the two gates, the area is packed to the gills with vendors and stalls selling food, typical Japanese souvenirs, toys, clothes, and video games. The temple itself is a rather loose compound with shops flanking it on all sides along with a Shinto shrine. Dave and I explored the area a bit, but decided not to get souvenirs right away since it was still early in the trip. The temple was also fully populated with hordes of schoolchildren, all in uniform visiting the shrine on class trips. Even very small children were on trips to the temple, carried by hilarious carts like children on hand-pushed buses. Apparently they do this in other big cities in America, but I’d never seen it before so Dave and I quickly took to accusing the cart pushers of kidnapping all the kids in the carts.

The outer gate has a huge lantern

The outer gate has a huge lantern

After our temple visit, we had free time until the game, so Dave and I decided to go eat lunch and hit up Akihabara again. Since CoCo Curry is on the way to Akihabara and it’s so good, Dave and I had yet another lunch there that I thoroughly enjoyed. Since we were visiting in the daytime, Akihabara looked a lot more like it should complete with alleys bursting with electronic components. In the distance I spotted Pac-Man ghosts chasing an 8-bit Mario and assumed that it had to be some sort of retro-game store. Since I was looking for a copy of Mother 3 to validate a translated ROM, Dave and I headed toward it to check it out.

If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.

If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.

Once we got closer, it became immediately obvious that we were standing at the door of a Super Potato, Japan’s most famous video game collectors store. The interior is divided up loosely chronologically, with early systems like the Famicom, MSX, and PC Engine situated on the first floor of the shop, Super Famicom and Mega Drive on the second floor of the shop, and Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, GB and GBA at the top of the games sections (game soundtracks also lived on this floor). The topmost floor was a retro-game arcade that had some seriously old arcade cabinets and some seriously awesome decorations and all of the floors had collectibles and toys from famous franchises.

BIG BOSS!

BIG BOSS!

My hunt for Mother 3 did not go so well at first, mostly because it seemed that there were no used copies sitting around the shelves. I walked up to the counter on that floor, said “Mother 3” in the most inquisitive way possible, and just looked confused. At first I didn’t think they understood what I meant, but they helped me look a bit and didn’t find it. Before I could get too dejected, the other guy behind the counter pulled out a new cartridge in the Japanese-style GBA box. My wallet was lightened by about ¥3600, but I was now the owner of a brand new Mother 3 cart. Mission Complete! S-Rank!

I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato

I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato

I can’t forget to mention that we also found a pretty sweet capsule machine that sold keychains that made noises from the Mario series. I got a coin keychain for ¥200. Dave became less enthused by my antics by the end of the day, but that coin sound is just spot on and super fun. BONUS FACT: I believe they use one of these during the 4-Minute Warning section of Listen Up! on 1up.com.

Our quest for games satisfied, we decided to go into a music store next. My goal was to find the one Sambomaster CD I couldn’t import into the states. Unfortunately, the Japanese system of organization eluded me. We thought that maybe they adopted a Roman ordering based on sounds because we seemed to see bands with English names clustered around each other if they had the same letters, but our theory was quickly dashed and we were left wandering the store confused. My next idea was to walk up to a sales clerk, show her the entry for Sambomaster on my iPod (it’s written in kanji or katakana, I don’t know which), and pray that she could lead us to it. It turned out that the Sambomaster section was literally right behind us on the shelf and they also had the album I was looking for. Another successful mission.

Dave and I decided to try to head into a Sofmap again and climbed our way to the top floor to check out some video games. The selection was pretty enormous, complete with Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS games. Some of the DS games had way cooler boxart than the ones we’re used to. The worst part about the music store was seeing the games I most want to come out in the states, the Powapuro series, sitting in the store mocking me. Both the NPB edition and MLB Power Pros 2009 were sitting right there. I will be investigating ways to play Japanese games at home while I’m out here, since I know I can manage to play a Japanese baseball game with no knowledge of the language.

Please come to the states!

Please come to the states!

Our walk back to the hotel passed by a Shinto shrine, which housed a much smaller, single shop just outside. At this shrine I did not drink any water, but I did wash my hands and I took a picture of the board with all the ema. On our way out we noticed a tanuki statue. Not sure if you readers are aware, but tanuki in folklore have famously large testicles in Japan. It’s insane.

Hes got large...tracts of land?

He's got large...tracts of land?

We got back to the hotel room and noticed that the “Do not clean” sign we put up was gone and the room was clean. I wonder why we even bothered…

It was in and out time for our first baseball game. The matchup was the Yomiuri Giants vs. the Yakult Swallows in the Tokyo Dome. The Dome itself is located in a giant entertainment complex in Tokyo with an amusement park and a mall right across the street. Bob took us to the top of a nearby building to get a good view of the surroundings and then set us loose until game time. We had about an hour to kill and Dave and I noticed that there was a roller coaster that spiraled through and around the buildings that composed the amusement park. We decided to investigate, along with our new travel buddy Susan.

You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!

You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!

When we got to the coaster, heretofore known as Thunder Dolphin, we saw that it cost ¥1000 (~$10) to ride, but we weren’t going to let that discourage us. Susan opted not to ride, but we barreled up the steps, hoped we bought admission (the machine was in Japanese), and queued up. The coaster had lockers on the other side for passengers to pack their belongings in, so we headed over and emptied out and got on the coaster. If you check Dave’s pictures, you know by now that this coaster was built with extreme in mind. The first drop is at a 72° angle, for heaven’s sake, and everything is very tight and compressed since it’s in the city. It’s an intense roller coaster that was tons of fun! I just wish we could have gone on it again for free.

What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?

What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?

The coaster put us at just the right time to enter the Dome, which, unlike other ballparks in the states, had restaurants and shops on the outside. We queued at our gate, got to the rotating glass doors, and awaited the attendant-allowed opportunity to walk through the doors. Turns out, they keep the dome tightly sealed, because our ears all popped upon entering the dome, which is also kept at a Tokyo-warm 77-80°F, but there we were, within the Tokyo Dome, home of the most famous baseball team in Japan.

The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.

The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.

It’s said that the Giants are rather like the Yankees of Japan and I can kind of see that. The ballpark has a stateliness to it and their team has a low-frills, dignified approach that does away with too much craziness. Their mascots, for some odd reason, are rabbits from space, but we’ll let that slide. Even before the game, a steady stream of concession stand girls were wandering all the aisles, offering coke to the fans. Once the game started, they were joined by the famous beer girls. I once confused the tanks they carried on their backs for hot water for noodles, but the reality is that they’re tasked with roaming their sections all game with a heavy tank of beer strapped to their backs. As they empty out, they head back to their HQ and refill the tanks to go at it again. It’s impressive, considering the size of these girls.

Getting ready to pour us some bieru

Getting ready to pour us some "bieru"

Also immediately obvious were the ōendan (cheer) squads that sit in the outfield bleachers representing both teams. I learned from other members of the tour that admission into those sections is strictly limited by membership in the fan club. To gain membership, you must be willing to travel with the team on a set number of games, know every fight song, know every player-related cheer, and be spirited. They are intense. They started cheering before the game and they continued to cheer with the same intensity to the bitter end (which Dave and I missed…more on that soon).

The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?

The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?

The ballgame began and after a half-inning of awe at how the Swallows cheer section was going nuts, the Giants were set to come up. We quickly learned that the aura of “bad-assery” that most ballplayers in the states cultivate doesn’t seem to be as necessary out here in Japan, especially since some of the players were coming up to bat to bubbly J-Pop or slow, Japanese ballads. It was bizarre, especially when a foreign, Hispanic player came up to bat and it was not salsa, merengue, or reggaeton.

The game itself is played with small ball in mind a lot more than in the states. We still saw a home run that night, but most of the players were shooting for base hits. Baltimore chops were a common sight to ensure safe baserunner advancement and they bunted freely. Very rarely did they swing for the fences and if they did, it was probably an American player doing it.

The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.

The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.

In the 7th inning I learned that there is no stretch out here, just a communal rendition of the Giants fight song along with dancing mascots. The balloon thing was strangely absent, so I have no footage of that either.

It being the first full day out in Tokyo, Dave and I didn’t do so well at staying up through the game. By the 8th inning, we found ourselves sleeping through most of the at-bats and the cheers. Only the roar of the crowd at a great play would rouse us, only to return us unconscious. With the Giants down 3-1 in the top of the 9th, we went back to the hotel to sleep, but it turns out that we made a mistake there. The Giants caught up that inning and tied up the game. Two hours later, the game ended in a tie in the 12th and both teams were pooped. By the way, Japan baseball ends after 12 innings, no matter what. They allow ties.

So that was our first day of baseball. We are headed for Kyoto next and we will use the bullet train to get there and to the Orix Buffaloes game in Kobe. I’ve got to pass out now, I’m dying of exhaustion.

Derivative Art, Japanese Rock, and the Coming Rock Revolution [You Can Quote Me On That]
May 21st, 2009 by Dan

From Tim Rogers’ article on Japanese music and Sambo Master (so good, but long!):

I told Sanyon, “Art is poison. The ‘art’ of the past — the words of the past set down for future generations to remember — was it not made or chosen with the best judgment, can only hinder the freedom of the future.”

“That’s a very Western philosophy.”

“No. It’s The Tale of Genji. Murasaki Shikibu. The world’s first novel. From your country — 998 AD.”

“Well!”

“If I write a novel, for example, about a girl in a religious community who is ostracized when she’s discovered to be an adultress, no matter how much I focus on the woman’s pining over the wonderful cookies at the weekly church bake sale, and no matter how clever I make the cookie motif — a metaphor for what, I don’t know — I can’t publish it without drawing comparisons to The Scarlet Letter.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a book. Famous American literature. Anyway. Furthermore — if I were to, say, show The Scarlet Letter to a publishing company editor who had never read it, he’d look at it for ten minutes before telling me it was utter trash. Too long, too gloomy, paragraphs too big, too thick, setting details not fleshed out enough, needs too many footnotes, too prose-y.”

“Aha. You’re saying the judges aren’t competent, is what you’re saying.”

“No. I’m saying that some of the shit we regard as gospel is actually . . . not.”

Sanyon snapped his fingers, and pointed at me. His mouth opened, then closed.

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

I shook my head. “I’m not sure I follow myself, sometimes. Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s probable — highly possible that a lot of the punk-rock music people like you and me listen to now would still exist, in some way, shape or form, if Ramones had never existed.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

“I’m only mostly sure, myself. All I . . . know is that it feels criminally wrong to believe that only one man can ever hold the power to change the world. It’s like this — I believe in something we’ll call an ‘aesthetic god.’ I also believe in music theory, though that’s for another day. The ‘aesthetic god’ applies to, well, it’s a belief that certain things look and/or sound pleasing. Good sights, good sounds. Jennifer Aniston’s ‘Friends’ hairstyle; the computerized shine on Britney Spears’ voice. With popular music all you’re doing is throwing things at a wall, and seeing what sticks. Well, I don’t know. I guess that’s how it was in the beginning. Now people — they know what sticks and what doesn’t. This is because there are little . . . laws in aesthetics. Some kind of a supreme presence.

“Yet, see — here’s what I believe. There are infinite avenues to pleasant sights and sounds. Infinite ways of playing a guitar. It’s just that Kurt Cobain comes in and plays these four chords in this order and everybody gets hooked up on it. Art isn’t a ‘poison’ in that it rots and kills; it’s a poison in that it slows down and hinders. Our eyes and ears are attracted to shiny sights and sounds, and we dare not look away. That’s how Murasaki Shikibu would probably put it if she were around today. I take it she’d agree with me when I say (and you know old Japanese poetry was my major in college) that we stand, now, at an era where the ignorant are set to inherit the earth. When a guy who comes across a guitar for the first time in his life and sits down and plays it for an hour until he ‘discovers’ power chords, yeah, he’s got a chance of doing something great. He can change the world.”

Sanyon shook his head. “That sounds like some religious bullshit, man. A rock and roll messiah or some shit.” He shrugged. “It’s not like things — the current rock and roll situation — are so bad. People listen to music on the train. People get paid to make the music. As long as the CDs sell copies — hey. I may be just a kid — people like it that way — and my grasp of the whole industry dynamic might be one-dimensional, though at least I feel like I understand it. Japan treats its musicians right, at least when it comes to securing them a future. And that’s what it’s about for me. A person-to-person basis. Not changing the fucking world. I feel sorry for the bastard who ends up having to do that.”

I wagged my finger. “He won’t even know he’s doing it, is the thing. He’ll just be another guy like you, maybe a kid, thinking he’s just having fun. Then he realizes what he’s doing, and he either rises to it or he blows the fuck up. If he rises to it, then he’s suddenly a hero to people. That’s how it happens. You kids overthink things sometimes, even more than I do, and I’m the one doing all of the talking. See — hell. It’s like . . . shit. I don’t know. What I mean to say is — go back to the Scarlet Letter analogy. The fact that there’s so much literature backed-up in the historical pipeline pisses a lot of writers off. They know that they can’t write such-and-such a novel without being compared to so-and-so. The same goes for music. This makes writers and musicians a bunch of ironic assholes. That’s the problem here, is irony. People get all bitter and jaded before they’re even twenty years old. They turn into a bunch of cocks. I was reading an old interview with The Pixies in this little book of rock interviews my friend had. I think the interview was from 1989 or some shit, and yeah, it was like — I kept thinking what an asshole Frank Black sounded like. He sounded like a total fuckhole. It’s like — this way he’s talking, his opinions, this is exactly the shit I hated on kids who thought they were rockers in high school. I totally understood a whole bunch of shit. They got it . . . from the music. I mean, nothing against The Pixies or anything.”

Sanyon shrugged. “They’re alright.”

“Alright. Yeah, they’re alright. They’re alright.”

“Anyway, man, like — like I said. I’m just having fun. That’s all. I’m not the hero in a comic book about punk-rockers in Tokyo. I’m not collecting all the fucking Pokemon. I’m just singing in a band — hell, I can’t even sing as well as Ito, and that fucker’s playing the guitar now — though I guess I have the personality. I can be on television. I can play the little Japanese television game. Perfect. They’ll like me. [Sanyons manager and ex-Blue Hearts bassist Junnosuke Kawaguchi] says we’ll be fine. People will like our style, and all that. That’s what’s important.”

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