Making summer mix CDs and playlists always gets me thinking about the first half of the year. As far as music goes in 2010, we've been pretty lucky; at least more lucky than with 2009. So here's my ten favorite singles of the first half of the year. Now go make your own mix.
 "Soldier of Love" by Sade
It's pretty much a lock now that if Sade decides to make and release music that it will be worth your time, even if a decade of trends and gimmicks have filtered through pop radio in the interim.
 "The High Road" by Broken Bells
I've always liked Danger Mouse's production tone, and his affinity for vintage keyboards and late 60's Pop meshes well with James Mercer's songwriting. I also like that Mercer has (a) emerged as a very distinct vocalist, and (b) that his songs are gloomy and broken-hearted on this set. The notion that the man behind a decade of sweet indie-pop songs might be slightly misanthropic is exciting to me, and "The High Road" is particularly melancholy and seething.
 "I'll Stand By Her" by Marvelous Darlings
OK, I admit it. I sometimes wish every band sounded like this - a perfect blend of snotty punk of the Replacements/Buzzcocks school and the power pop of the first three Cheap Trick albums. Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook comes up with one the best of these kind of nuggets here, and since we've lost The Exploding Hearts and Jay Reatard, we can definitely use it.
 "Dancing on My Own" by Robyn
Even more than Sade, Robyn has become reliable. You can count on her to make interesting music. From a Pop perspective, she might be the closest thing to vintage-80's Prince we have today. I love the gender-confused chorus on this track.
 "Crown on the Ground" by Sleigh Bells
Yes, this came out last fall, but its album just came out, so I'm counting it. Besides a song this heavy-handed can dominate for a whole year if it wants. It's obnoxiously loud in all the best ways, sexy and sweet, but bullies your senses with piercing riffs. As much fun as the album is, this is still the duo's highlight so far.
 "Tighten Up" by The Black Keys
Like the album it's on, at first I really liked this song, but the more I listen to it, the more it becomes a serious kind of love. There is an effortlessness to the Keys this time out, and I love the soulful ease of all the songs on the new disc; the beats are especially tasty in a simple way. Oh, and my Dad thinks this song sounds like Bob Marley, but he's kind of crazy.
 "The Mighty Sparrow" by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
Ted Leo has become one of my favorite artists because he's consistently awesome on record and even more so on stage. So when he comes out with songs like this, which will work perfectly in his live show, they usually end up with high play counts on my iPod. I truly believe this is one of his 5 best songs.
 "Drunk Girls" by LCD Soundsystem
Sometimes, James Murphy's David Bowie obsession gets to be a bit much ("All I Want" is a little too "Heroes" this time out), but when he mines Bowie's often overlooked Lodger sound, then I'm OK with it. The only song on the new LCD that sounds like a single happens to bear a welcome passing resemblance to Bowie singles like "DJ" and "Boys Keep Swinging", while also believing in waking up together.
 "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi)
For a split second I thought I might be over the song. Nope. Still a masterpiece of Post-Funk Modern Pop. She might be crazy, but Monae's still making the music we all thought Prince or Andre 3000 would be making right around now. I'm waiting for the world to catch up.
 "Shutterbugg" by Big Boi (feat. Cutty)
What is internet-speak for the opposite of "epic fail"? Is it "Big Boi FTW"? If it is, then that's what I want to type here. This song so completely wins these past six months that it makes the rest of the music world look lazy (I'm wondering when the last time Dr. Dre sniffed a track this good was), while also putting my faith back in the Outkast machine. "Shutterbugg" packs the funk of "So Fresh, So Clean", the catchiness of "Ms. Jackson", and the jaw-dropping rewind-that highlight-reel feel of "B.O.B.". Andre 3000 loses purely from not doing anything, let alone something this great. If you hear this song coming this summer, it'll be me, bumping it loud as fuck in my car with the windows down. All. Summer. Long.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
NOTE: this post is full of spoilers, in case you haven't watched the show and intend to.
I have always felt that genre fiction - especially Sci-Fi - is best when it sticks as close to reality as possible. When I was in college, I wanted to be a comic book artist, and my friends and I would sit around drawing all day, coming up with dozens of characters, each with their own origin. One day, around the time I stopped pursuing this goal, I decided that the concept of the skin-tight superhero costume was ridiculous enough to turn me off from mainstream comics, and if I was ever going to draw these heroes and villains again, I was going to draw them wearing costumes that looked like real clothing. And those feelings have permeated how I feel about the film and television that vaguely falls in the modern fantasy genre, especially as it has taken hold over the last decade. From a film as subtle as Children of Men, to Christopher Nolan's Batman films, to the first season of Tim Kring's Heroes, I like to see the how and why behind the extraordinary.
Despite the hundred or so unanswered questions left dangling after this Sunday's series finale, LOST worked for me because there were answers to the mysteries, even if we didn't know them. I loved seeing what was inside the Hatch, or that there's a time difference between the Island and the outside world, or that polar bears could end up in the Tunisian desert by way of some Bermuda Triangle-like portal. For all its wonder, LOST felt like the real world to me, and maybe I didn't realize it until the last couple episodes, but that was due to the great characters, and the actors who played them.
In the end, there are complaints that I could voice - like for all the show's interwoven arguments of faith versus science, science kind of got short-changed, and likewise the Island got gypped in favor of the community-based limbo of the "sideways world" (which wasn't sideways at all, but more of a post-world) - but that's just me personally looking for what I loved most about the show. It doesn't change that the producers and writers had an epic story to tell, and they told it beautifully. The show was a wild ride that I loved regardless of how I feel about the last hour.
As I am known for my lists, I threw these two together over the weekend in anticipation of the finale, and I hope you like them. Goodbye, LOST. I know, no matter how hard the networks try, there will never be another show like you.
The Ten Weakest Hours of LOST:
10. "I Do" (Season 3)
Blah blah blah Kate gets married blah blah blah. Pro: guest star Nathan Fillion. Con: the ill-advised mid-season finale that is often cited as permanently crippling the show's ratings.
09. "S.O.S." (Season 2)
While it does include THIS awesome moment, and while I guess Bernard & Rose are nice enough to deserve one episode, I just remember being bored and not caring.
08. "Adrift" (Season 2)
Yes, Locke went down in the Hatch for the first time, and yes, there was the Dharma shark, but with the flashback about his custody battle, we start to learn early on that we really don't care about Michael if Walt isn't around, especially when all he's doing is clinging to a hunk of metal in the water for an hour, hollering "WAAAAAALLLLT!!!"
07. "Abandoned" (Season 2)
What seemed like a cool twist at the time - Shannon gets killed just as she finds love with Sayid, and by the returning survivors from the tail-section and the raft - now plays as the writers not really having anything for Shannon to do in the larger construct of the show. Her flashbacks with the death of her father and her evil stepmother are particularly forgettable.
06. "The Other Woman" (Season 4)
Juliet has an affair with Goodwin, which I'm ok with, but we have to suffer the lame out-of-nowhere character of his wife Harper, the Dharma psych-therapist, not to mention Ben's tantrum about how Juliet belongs to him (which hasn't been referenced since). And that's just the flashback (wasn't this a season of flashforwards?) - remember Juliet trying to stop Faraday & Charlotte from releasing the gas at the Tempest station? Yeah, me neither.
05. "Across The Sea" (Season 6)
The best way to describe it is a missed opportunity. The origin story of Jacob and his nameless, smokey brother just doesn't work for me. The pacing is terribly slow, stretching what should have been 15-20 minutes of story to 50 minutes, needlessly casting marginal kid actors just to tie into the blond boy who's been running around the Island throughout Season 6. Sure, they threw us some necessary answers, but we didn't get anything about the Statue, Lighthouse, Temple, or why Smokey doesn't react well to ashes and sonic fences. We did get Allison Janney's wooden acting and middle American accent though.
04. "Exposé" (Season 3)
Yeah, so...Nikki & Paulo. Yup, that happened.
03. "Whatever the Case May Be" (Season 1)
So, Kate went through all that trouble for a die-cast toy plane?? Yawn.
02. "Something Nice Back Home" (Season 4)
I will be proven right in the coming years, that this episode was all a bad idea. It spends the bulk of the time on Jack getting sick, and then having his appendix taken out by Juliet, which felt like the writers were stalling again. Likewise, Claire wanders off with the ghost of her Dad and leaves Aaron in the middle of the jungle, which felt sudden and senseless. Jack proposes to Kate in the future, only to drive her away by being a drunk idiot. And the writers scream in our face that Christian Shepard is the smoke monster sitting in the lobby of his son's practice, setting the smoke detector off, only to both reinforce it (UnLocke tells Jack that he appeared to him as Christian) AND undo it later in Season 6 by telling us Smokey can't leave the Island! WTF???!!!
01. "Stranger in a Strange Land" (Season 3)
It's not just an hour about Jack's tattoo guest-starring questionable actress Bai Ling. It's also a boring hour where Jack kind of gets in bed with The Others, and Kate & Sawyer basically do nothing but walk & row a boat.
The Thirty Best Episodes of LOST:
30. "The Economist" (Season 4)
A great episode that mostly stands alone - Sayid's German romance with Elsa ends with the revelation that Sayid is an assassin...for Ben?? Meanwhile, in one of his best scenes, Faraday wonders why there's a time difference between the freighter and the Island.
29. "Jughead" (Season 5)
This episode succeeds because of all the information download on the origins of Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking, their involvement with The Others in the mid 1950's, and their relation to Daniel Faraday. There's also the great scene when Locke stomps into The Others' camp to see Richard.
28. "A Tale of Two Cities" (Season 3)
This Season 3 premiere may start the weak Hydra Island storyline, but the opening sequence showing the plane crash from The Others perspective is truly awesome, and the verbal sparring between Juliet & Jack in the shark cage remains riveting.
27. "Recon" (Season 6)
Sideways Sawyer is a cop??!!? Yup, and his story is pretty awesome, with Miles as his partner. On the Island, Sawyer gets back to being dirty, playing both sides of the eventual UnLocke Vs. Widmore clash. We also get a nice morsel of the Claire/Kate tension, as mediated by UnLocke. This episode feels like the beginning of the end.
26. "The Variable" (Season 5)
As far as I'm concerned, any Daniel Faraday is good Daniel Faraday. This episode is essentially about his relationship with his apparent parents, as well as him conveying his plan to save all the Survivors stuck in 1977 by detonating the "Jughead" hydrogen bomb from the 50's, setting the stage for "The Incident".
25. "The Beginning of the End" (Season 4)
The flashforwards start in earnest, with Hurley's car chase, "The Oceanic Six", the first appearance of Matthew Abaddon, and Charlie's ghost showing up 3 times to make Hurley even crazier. On the Island, Hurley cannonballs and finds the Cabin, Jack & Locke split up the survivors, and Daniel Faraday arrives...
24. "Confirmed Dead" (Season 4)
The proper introduction of Faraday, Miles, Charlotte, and Lapidus, all with very intriguing reasons for being brought to the Island. Plus, apparently Ben was expecting them, and has a man on their boat.
23. "The Incident" (Season 5)
To say it's the weakest of the season finales isn't to say it's bad - it is still on this list of the show's best episodes. I just felt that the Incident of the title - the detonating of the hydrogen bomb at the site of the would-be Hatch - didn't measure up to the rest of this episode, which includes the first appearance of Jacob and his mysterious brother, Jacob's globe-trotting adventures to meet the Survivors in the past, Ilana revealing to Richard that the real Locke is dead, and that 'UnLocke' is the new show villain, tricking Ben into stabbing Jacob.
22. "Walkabout" (Season 1)
The first glimpses into the mysterious John Locke, and his shocking condition before coming to the Island.
21. "This Place is Death" (Season 5)
The time-flashing jumps from the first half of Season 5 never really held much weight since they were happening to only half our heroes, but this episode resonates with the return of Jin, the origins of Rousseau and her madness, Charlotte bugging out and ominously uttering the title in Korean, revealing that she was a girl in the Dharma Initiative and then dying in Faraday's arms, and Locke dropping down into the well to fix the frozen move-the-Island wheel as instructed by Christian Shephard. Plus, Jack, Sun, Ben & Desmond unite to go visit Eloise Hawking in L.A., which Desmond punctuates with the great, "Are you looking for Faraday's mother, too?"
20. "Man of Science, Man of Faith" (Season 2)
LOST's put-up-or-shut-up moment. So, you're telling me there's a Scotsman down in the Hatch, who happened to meet Jack jogging one time, and he's got full living quarters down there, and he has to press a button every 108 minutes? OK, yeah, that was worth the summer wait.
19. Happily Ever After (Season 6)
The umpteenth return of Desmond, but he's always a welcome presence. What's nice is we also get some Charlie Pace, even if he is basically a mischievous Mancunian Leprechaun in this episode. Desmond has a purpose on both the Island, where Widmore, we'll later learn, intends to use him as a "failsafe" to the Island's electromagnetism, and more importantly in the sideways life. In fact, Desmond's all-you-need-is-love revelations suddenly pump life and meaning into the uncertain sideways storylines, finally connecting that world to the world on the Island, and starting the ball rolling towards the series conclusion.
18. "LaFleur" (Season 5)
The best Sawyer episode, but not for the past Sawyer reasons. This episode is very subtle and mellow compared to the usual adrenaline levels of the show. The time-flashing gang joins Dharma, and Sawyer macking it to Juliet turns out to be one of the sweetest and best developments in the show's run. Also, was that the whole Statue?
17. "There's No Place Like Home" (Season 4)
The finale of the writers' strike-shortened Season 4, it features many great moments, like Sayid's jungle throwdown with Martin Keamy, Sawyer jumping out of the helicopter, the freighter blowing up, Ben 'moving' the Island, and Penny coming to everyone's rescue. It also teases the legend of Jeremy Bentham, who, it turns out, is John Locke in the coffin.
16. "LA X" (Season 6)
Apparently, Hurley's hiding a note inside a giant Ankh inside Charlie's guitar case to give to a Samurai living in the Temple. Whew! There's also a "Sideways" universe (who knew?), Juliet dies, Sayid dies but then lives after a magic bath, and by the way, Locke is the muthafuckin' Smoke Monster and he is royally pissed off! Let the Terry O'Quinn acting clinic begin!
15. "Live Together, Die Alone" (Season 2)
The season finales are always highlights on LOST, and the return of a drunken Desmond Hume is a bonus. Of course, we also have Desmond, Charlie, Mr. Eko & Locke blowing up the Hatch, the first glimpse of the Statue (or its foot), the kidnapping of Jack, Kate & Sawyer, and the emergence of Benjamin Linus, who lets Michael & Walt leave the Island (you can do that?) while insisting that The Others are "the good guys".
14. "What They Died For" (Season 6)
It feels like the first hour of the series finale, really. All set up, but set up to The End. The swirling convergence of the sideways survivors points towards a crowded concert climax orchestrated by Desmond. The Island protagonists run head on into Jacob - for the last time - who throws his figurative mystical cards on the table and Jack volunteers for a shiny new sheriff's badge. Meanwhile, the inevitable collision between UnLocke, Ben, Widmore, and Richard finally happens, but not quite the way we thought it would. One thing is for sure: it leaves you dying for the finale spectacular.
13. "Deus Ex Machina" (Season 1)
The episode when the show picked up steam and started to become something truly special. Again focusing on John Locke, we saw for the first time his terrible parental drama, as well as issues dealing with the Island's healing properties, Boone's tragedy in the crashed Nigerian beechcraft, and in one of the great TV moments ever, Locke banging on the Hatch door until a bright light surprisingly comes on inside.
12. "Lockdown" (Season 2)
There are two reasons this remains one of the best episodes in the entire series: the first is this is the episode where it's revealed that "Henry Gale" is most definitely not who he says he is, setting the stage for one of the great TV villains of all time; second is the "Blast Door Map" which Locke sees in ultra-violet light while trapped in the Hatch's lockdown. The Map was the best of the early breadcrumbs for rabid fans dissecting the show online.
11. "The Man From Tallahassee" (Season 3)
As I write this, I start to realize that the John Locke episodes are obviously a cut above, maybe because his character is more fun to write, or maybe because Terry O'Quinn is a genius actor. This episode comes clean on Locke's father Anthony Cooper, we get Locke's 8-story plummet to a wheelchair existence, as well as Locke blowing up Ben's submarine, stopping Jack & Juliet from going home. Oh yeah, and there's a "magic box", and Locke's dad is bound and gagged inside.
10. "The End" (Season 6)
There are really two questions as it relates to this 108-minute monster. The first question is it a great series finale, and does it satisfy all our questions? My answer is no, and I could talk for hours about why not like most Lost fans could. But I think in the spirit of the show and the fun I've had with it over the years, the second and more important question is, is it a great Lost episode? And the only answer to that is an absolute yes.
09. "Pilot" (Season 1)
The basis for everything, from the super-expensive opening beach scene (this remains the most costly pilot episode of all time), Kate stitching Jack up, Charlie getting "You all everybody!" stuck in our heads for days, Smokey snatching up the pilot's body from the cockpit, and everyone's favorite rampaging polar bear.
08. "The Substitute" (season 6)
The sideways world comes together as we follow John Locke to meet Good Luck Hurley, temp agency Rose, and school teacher Ben. On the Island, we get Ben's sadly comic eulogy for the real John Locke, while UnLocke starts to slowly unveil his game with Jacob through conversations with a reluctant Richard, a drunk Sawyer, and visions of Jacob as a ghostly boy, and also by revealing the cave of mostly crossed-out candidate names to Sawyer.
07. "The Shape of Things to Come" (Season 4)
In one sentence: The assault of the Mercenaries. In a bit longer form, the freighter doctor washes ashore with his throat slit, Ben keeps a shotgun in his piano seat, Claire's house blows up, the deliciously evil Martin Keamy executes Alex in front of Ben, and Ben summons Smokey to decimate the Mercs. In the future, we're left to wonder why Ben would suddenly appear in the middle of the Tunisian desert wearing a winter parka (kind of like the polar bear skeleton Charlotte dug up), and if he can get into Charles Widmore's bedroom in the middle of the night, why he doesn't just kill him.
06. "The Life & Death of Jeremy Bentham" (Season 5)
...Or what happened to John Locke after he fixed the time-flashes. Ending up in the same desert as Ben did, he is tasked by Charles Widmore with reuniting the Oceanic Six to return to the Island, which seems to also be Ben's task as well. Hmmm...Oh yeah, and it includes the best scene of the entire series.
05. "The Candidate" (Season 6)
Sideways Jack explores the coincidences of his meetings with sideways Locke, who's still in the hospital after Desmond ran him down. Meanwhile, Jack goes along with UnLocke just long enough to rescue his people from Widmore, and then steal Widmore's submarine. Claire is distraught about being left behind again, but UnLocke isn't, knowing that Jack has a ticking timebomb in his backpack, and killing eight birds with one stone will accomplish his ultimate goal...except that doesn't happen - Sayid sacrifices himself to save the day, though he takes Sun & Jin with him into the murky deep.
04. "Exodus" (Season 1)
I could say the epic season 1 finale is a classic because is could be boiled down to some of the most iconic one-liners of the series, from "The numbers are bad! The numbers are bad!" to "You've got some Arzt on you" to "We're gonna haveta take the boy." But it's more than that - explore for a millisecond the scenes that those quotes are taken from and you will see some of the best television of all time. The sequence on the raft is as good today as it was six years ago, and the view down the open shaft remains the greatest cliffhanger of all time.
03. "The Man Behind The Curtain" (Season 3)
"You do remember birthdays, don't you Richard?" The epic backstory of Benjamin Linus, from meeting Richard Alpert as a boy, to "The Purge" - gassing the whole Dharma Initiative - and taking over as leader of The Others. Naomi has dropped by at this point as well, but we're too busy visiting "Jacob's Cabin" for the first time, and then seeing Ben shoot John Locke and leave him for dead in the Dharma mass grave.
02. "The Constant" (Season 4)
It had been going for a while, but quietly, almost without notice - the Desmond & Penny romance feels like it exists completely separate from whatever else is going on. This is the episode that made it historic. Both Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger should work as actors for years off this one hour of television, the rare moment where an action/sci-fi show does romance and it's neither cheesy nor forced. And if that wasn't enough, this episode also cements the Daniel Faraday character as one of LOST's best.
01. "Through the Looking Glass" (Season 3)
The reason this episode and "The Constant" are usually cited as the series favorite episodes is because of the emotional set-pieces featured within, and rightly so. But what makes this the best episode by far is because it can't just be reduced to Charlie's Death. There is a ridiculous amount of development in these two hours. In fact, most people forget that the heartbreaking drowning of Mr. Pace AND the jaw-dropping cliffhanger of Jack yelling "WE HAVE TO GO BACK!!!" is the same hour of television! The flashforward was a genius move at the time, making us wonder what happened to Jack, who was Kate going home to, who was in the coffin - even the easter eggs are great, like the funeral parlor anagram, or the Nirvana song. But the best stuff was on the Island: you had the first seed of the Juliet/Sawyer hook-up, and Hurley saving the day with the Dharma VW bus, not to mention Sawyer finally shooting Tom Friendly for taking Walt. Walt told a dying Locke that he had "work to do". Rousseau finally gets to meet her daughter, while Jack gives Ben the all-time great beating the fans were waiting for. The radio tower, Patchy's grenade, "Good Vibrations", Naomi taking a knife in the back, "Not Penny's Boat", a phone call to some guy named Minkowski. This is most definitely the best LOST episode, topped off with possibly the greatest death in TV history. R.I.P. Charlie Pace. You all everybody.