Friday, January 29, 2010

BEACH HOUSE Teen Dream - LP

Beach House
Teen Dream
2010, Sub Pop Records
9 out of 10

Magnificent! This is the word to properly describe Beach House’s third full-length album, Teen Dream. Following this Charm City duo’s stunning 2008 sophomore release, Devotion, Beach House expand on their gauzy, thrift store dream-voodoo with equal parts maturity, emotion and sophistication - blending 90’s shoegaze, 80’s new wave, and elements of 70’s rock into an album that is effortlessly mesmerizing and perfect. Victoria Legrand’s whimsical keyboard flourishes and cathedral-filling vocals are perfectly matched by the Alex Scally’s shimmering guitar, especially on tracks such as “Norway,” “Silver Soul” and the brilliant “Walk in the Park.” Elsewhere, “Lover of Mine” rides a crest of ethereal bass and keyboard currents that sound like Atari’s Space Invaders descending upon an indie-rock disco. “Used To Be” is a warmer re-working of the 2008 single of the same name, where the overcast melancholy has been replaced with cold comfort and joy. The epic “10 Mile Stereo” glides on Sigor Ros-ian synth and string swells, while “Real Love” finds Legrand channeling her inner Stevie Nicks over delicate piano and distant percussion. Teen Dream is truly one of 2010’s best records; a splendid album that won’t so much rock you, as it will move you - magnificently, of course.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

SPOON Transference - LP

Spoon
Transference
2010, Merge Records
8 out of 10

“I’m writing this to you in reverse,” Spoon’s Britt Daniel rasps on “Written In Reverse,” one of 11 new songs from the band’s self-produced seventh studio album, Transference. “Someone better call a hearse.” Someone get this man a throat lozenge while you’re at it! Following the success of their 2007 album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, these Portland-by-way-of-Austin indie-rock elder statesmen return with another batch of excellent, self-contained sonic dynamos. Unlike Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, however, Transference has rougher, less polished edges to it, and the results are slightly more rewarding. “Trouble Comes Running” (one of the best tracks here) opens with murky acoustic guitar strumming that’s sucker-punched awake with a salvo of brute power pop that thankfully doesn’t let up. “Who Makes Your Money” employs phantom sonar pings over haunting layered vocals, while “The Mystery Zone” zig-zags across state lines Neko Case’s tornado neglected to devastate. “Got Nuffin’,” from the 2009 appetizer EP of the same name, is a tight, kinetic ditty with punchy piano lines and clanging guitar. “Goodnight Laura,” a simple piano and vocal lullaby, finds Spoon’s studio tinkering ever so subtly floating underneath. Transference makes the case: once again, Spoon can do no wrong.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Personal Is Personable: An Interview with Jeffrey Brown

It was a cold, slate day in Sacramento (are there any other kind?) on January 9th of this year when the first annual Indy Euphoria event took place. This event sought to shine a spotlight on emerging independent and underground comic artists, graphic artists, zinesters and toy designers. Among such local comic/arts luminaries as Tim Vigil, Paul Allen and Skinner sat one Mr. Jeffery Brown.

Jeffrey Brown is a (under) world-renowned comic book artist from Chicago who has gained a sizable fan base and recognition for his series of introspective and hilarious comics based on his personal life – love, loss, love, sex, love, etc. Along with Harvey Peckar, Adrian Tomine and Gilbert Hernandez (to name but a very few), Brown pioneered the art of comics that focus more on the personal aspect of everyday life rather than on superheroes in tights beating baddies to a pulp (Brown’s first comic book, Big Head, was indeed about a hero in tights, but with a meta approach to crime fighting.)

Brown’s signature artistic style is easily recognizable; loose, scratchy, devil-may-care, personable, and highly detailed. With several titles under his belt (Clumsy, AEIOU, Unlikely, the Sulk series, etc.), Brown is currently in the process of putting the finishing touches on the sequel to his Transformers satire/homage, Incredible Change-Bots. A newlywed and father, Brown makes ends meet doing what he loves and is best at: drawing funny and poignant comics.

True to the Jeffrey Brown we know from his autobiographical comics, he’s one of the nicest, soft-spoken people you will ever meet. Brown took time out of signing/selling comics at his Indy Euphoria table to graciously answer some annoying questions he’s been asked a thousand times before. True to form, he was extremely nice about doing so:


THE RUB: How would you say that your art has changed from the first time you started drawing comics to now?

Jeffrey Brown: When I first started, I was in art school and I was trying to forget everything I knew and get back to drawing like when I was a kid. I wanted to reduce everything to the most direct expression I could get at. Over time, everything I knew has creeping back into my art. I try to keep that kind of quality of not over-thinking things too much. But at the same time, I think my style has become more polished over time.

TR: Your style was looser before, and now it seems more – I don’t want to say “tighter” – but it seems more careful.

JB: Yeah, not necessarily a conscious decision, but just in terms of how I’m working, this just feels right to do it this way now, so that’s how I do it (laughs).

TR: What kind of got you on this path? You mentioned you were drawing as a kid, but when did you first moment that you realize that this [drawing comics] is what you wanted to do?

JB: By the time I was leaving for college, I had stopped reading comics and was no longer thinking about drawing comics for a living, let alone a hobby even. I was thinking that I was going to be a fine artist. While I was at art school, I wasn’t really happy with my work there. The faculty wasn’t happy with my work either, and I kind of went back to drawing comics just to maybe clear my head a little bit. And just to do something different. Also, the most fun I had making art was when I was a kid drawing comics, so I thought, “here is something I can do to kind of reset my brain a little.” So when I started drawing comics, everything seemed to click. It just felt like, “this is really what I should be doing” – not trying to be a painter or something.

TR: Did you start out the way most of us started out, drawing pictures of Wolverine and Superman?

JB: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I was drawing lost of superheroes and Star Wars and stuff from different cartoons. Also stuff form Dungeons and Dragons: kind of sword and sorcery drawings.

TR: You have a lot of personal accounts in a lot of your books. Do ex-girlfriends in particular ever get mad at you?

JB: Um… not that they’ve told me. One thing I always try to do when writing an autobiographical work is to be fair to people. Part of it is that I try to make myself look as bad - if not worse - than anyone else that I’m writing about. The books are about how flawed we all are. I certainly never set out to make someone look bad.
I think the other thing is the books are less about specific people than about these situations that happen in life. I think in that sense, hopefully, the people whose stories I’m using understand that it’s less about them or me than about these experiences, and sharing those experiences to kind of understand life better.

TR: You’re a dad now. Has that influences your art or changed the way you draw?

JB: Yeah, it’s definitely changed my perspective of life in general, let alone how I write. My way of looking at things that has changed. What I’m interested in writing about is also changing. An example would be if I watch movies now, when there’s a situation with a child, it has a bigger emotional impact on me than it did before. When I’m writing now, there’s just a different take on what’s important and what’s meaningful.

TR: Are you married?

JB: I am married now, also. We did baby first, married second.

TR: How is married life treating you?

JB: It’s good. It doesn’t seem that much different. It feels more… official. It also make it easier to explain our relationship, whereas before it was like, “well, we’ve got a kid and we live together and technically she’s only my girlfriend, but it’s more than that.” But how do you explain that? But now I can say ‘we’re married!’

TR: Would you run into that a lot? Were people like, “What?!? How does this work…?”

JB: It was maybe less coming from them than it was my own insecurities. Just trying to explain or defend myself. “No, no. You don’t understand. She’s not just my girlfriend. We’re in a committed relationship. She’s my life partner!”

TR: Have your wife or you son figured into your comics yet?

JB: A little bit. Part of it is, I’ve written so much autobiographical work that there’s just a little bit of material I’m interested in tackling now. Also, over time, I’ve become more conservative about personal details I’m exposing to the world.

TB: Do you find yourself editing your personal details because you have a lot more notoriety than when you first started out?

JB: Not in any specific manner; I think it’s more of just that the ideas I’m coming up with are different. It’s not that I’m editing-out something necessarily, it’s just that I’m not even thinking about writing it in the first place.
I still feel like I want to balance what’s important and expressing these ideas, as well as being respectful of people. It’s hard to say if it’s being married and having a son and being protective of that. How much of it is that, and how much of it is having written so much autobiographical work already? And now I’m just kind of moving away from that. I dunno.

TR: Given the personal nature of your work, have you ever had an overwhelming moment at a convention like this where you had a fan cross the line?

GB: No, no, not at all.
I think with my work, one of the ways I approach my writing is to tell stories the way I would with a close friend. So there is a sense of intimacy that comes right off the bat for a reader.
I think for the most part, what happens is maybe, people feel a little more at ease or comfortable around me – maybe less in person. But people will share their personal stories when they email me, or something. So there’s a kind of connection, but it hasn’t been to the point where it’s been weird or creepy.
I think by virtue of exposing myself, so to speak, there’s a certain amount of trust I’m placing in people as an audience. And by trusting them, that’s rewarded with a mutual respect or something. I think people are kind enough to be aware of that. Maybe more so than someone’s whose work isn’t deeply personnal. Almost like those [artists and writers] are more at risk of running into a situation where they’re going to have a scary experience.



And this, unfortunately, is where my tape recorder ran out of batteries. There were two or three more questions wherein I ask Mr. Brown what some of his favorite current comics are, what pen he enjoys drawing with the most (Uni-Ball Micro Deluxe) and what music he enjoys listening to (I seem to remember the bands Mt. Eerie and The Microphones being discussed)., but sadly, they were not recorded

Thanks go to Jeffery Brown for sitting down and discussing his work with me. It’s never advised to ever meet your heroes, unless you welcome disappointment. In the case of Jeffery Brown, that idiom couldn’t be further from the truth. Jeffrey Brown is a much nicer, warmer and genuine person than he comes across in his own comic, and I am exceptionally glad to have met him in person.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Jay Leno Show Bombs - Gets The Tonight Show Back. Huh?

NBC made it official today.

The Jay Leno Show is being canceled. Or is it? I'm not exactly sure, since NBC is now toying with the idea of moving Leno to 11:30 pm, and
The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien to 12:05 am. Yeah, let's all just pretend that this isn't really NBC giving O'Brien the boot and handing The Tonight Show back to Leno. Even The Larry Saunders Show wasn't this dysfunctional.

What a bunch of bullshit!

Moving Conan O'Brien to The Tonight Show was in the works for several years before it actually happened in 2009 - it wasn't like this move was unexpected. Why couldn't Jay Leno have retired with dignity and grace when this happened? Jack Parr and Johnny Carson both did so, and we regard them as legends today. Maybe it has something to do with fame, money or a lack of those rare vintage automobiles he has yet to obtain, but Jay Leno simply comes across more like a sycophantic leech than an entertainer now. The guy hints that he wants his late night slot back, and NBC literally snags it back for him. Why? He's not all that funny. What is it with this guy that NBC sees as being golden?

I like Conan O'Brien a lot. He's hilarious. He's daring. He's fun to watch! When a joke bombs, he does some forth wall-busting gag that picks the joke and show back up. His interviews with guests are great, and his skits are unpredictable and slap-stick. He has great bits, funny writers and a very wonderful supporting cast (Andy Richter, Max Weinberg, Labamba, et al.) O'Brien has an energy that is unmatched by Leno and even David Letterman (who, I might add, will be getting several more viewers if Conan gets the heave-ho from The Peacock Network). Given the right amount of time, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien would have picked-up steam and eventually had that "Hugh Grant interview" moment that once propelled Jay Leno when his ratings were in a slump (remember that, NBC? Of course you don't!)

NBC/General Electric made a commitment to Conan O'Brien. A commitment that had the host move his production and his family to California for. It was a commitment that was several years in the making, and Leno and NBC saw it coming well in advance. Now Jay Leno (whose comedy I think is stale, boring and geriatric) and NBC both decide, willy-nilly, that since Leno's post-retirement talk show was a ratings disaster (and boy was it!), it's time to basically give The Tonight Show back to him. Reclaim that former Tonight Show With Jay Leno glory, or something. You know; go backwards.

It's these kinds of inconsistent shenanigans that are making NBC the laughing stock it is today. Honestly, without 30-Rock, Community, The Office (which I'm starting to get tired of), Brian Williams, and The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien, I would have absolutely NO reason to watch this network. NBC needs to nut-up, back O'Brien and show Leno the door. Leno had his moment(s) in the sun (it's not like the guy is strapped for cash - I'm sure he'll survive without a television show); it's time to let someone else play in the Tonight Show sandbox.

But, of course, this is NBC: The National Broadcasting Clusterfuck. Leno's in and O'Brien's out. Again, I call bullshit on all of this!



If NBC can't honor to its commitment to Conan O'Brien, does this network really deserve the honor of our patronage? I mean, if this is what the network thinks of its talented employees, what must it think about us?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

BEACH HOUSE - Surrender To Their (*Ahem*) Charm!


I was sitting around with a fellow record collector recently, drinking beers and listening to him bemoan the current state of what we now know as indie-rock. "When's the next great band going to get here?" he asked, as if waiting for the Mother Ship to arrive and pluck him of this goo-stained planet we've created for our kids. Indeed, it has been a while since a band or solo artist has come around, awakening our collective conscience and allowed us, the music-listening-to-ing audience, to rally around them adoringly.

On the bike ride home I started milling it over. It's been years since Arcade Fire or The Shins released those albums we all loved, and there will never be another singer like Elliott Smith (R.I.P.) ever again. Animal Collective may be gathering fawning praise from NPR, Spin and Pitchforkmedia.com's Best-Of 2009 lists, but to be honest, this Brooklyn band is not all that accessible to untrained ears. Even if the next great messianic band were to come around, would we even hear them above the din of countless other DIY bands clogging the aural artery expressway that links the Internet to directly our brains/smartphones?

When I got home, there was an email pertinent to this discussion waiting for me in my inbox: someone set me the latest MP3 from the Baltimore-based band, Beach House. I opened their new song "Norway" up in iTunes, and was promptly giddy-slapped. This is was exactly what I had been waiting for; a song that is effortless, mesmerizing and unexpected. Upon the 10th or 11th replay of "Norway," I began to wonder, "Could these guys be that next great band we've been clamoring for?"

I have been aware of Beach House for sometime now. Their second album, Devotion (Carpark Records), easily made my "Top 10 Records of 2008" list. This Charm City duo, consisting of Victoria Legrande and Alex Scally, gets compared to Mazzy Star a lot by tin-eared, lazy reviewers who don't seem to know shit about shit. Beach House are really more akin to a slow burn soundtrack for Caucasian voodoo rituals, draped in thrift store lace and spent candle wax (if I were absolutely forced to compare Beach House to anyone, it would be A.C. Marias. For you review-by-numbers hacks: Stevie Nicks fronting The Cocteau Twins.) For an album that unfolded in glorious slow motion, Devotion was in constant rotation at my house and never wore-out its welcome (4-sided vinyl, and all).

On January 26th of this year Beach House will be releasing their third record, Teen Dream, on Sub Pop Records. From all the indications of the new single, Beach House seems set to expand their already incredible sound by filling-in those previously dark and drafty corners with splendid vibrancy by the dream-load. If "Norway" is any indication of what's to come, the bold palette Beach House is working from now practically radiates color, texture and Keebler elfin-like magic.

"Norway" starts off with a keyboard tone from a previous song that retreats quickly, as ominous tribal drumming encircles. Soon Legrand's angelic vocals and Scally's shimmering guitar glide in and sweep us up and away, into some heavenly region of sub-consciousness. This is the Beach House you remember, only they've just returned from somewhere far off, much wiser, more mature and far more versed than you remember them being. The features are the same, but elongated and refined now; not "grown up" as much as "grown out."

Beach House "Norway"


I want Beach House to be big. I want this band to be selling-out venues like the Fox Theater and The Crystal Ballroom. I want one of their songs on TV, selling iPods or hybrid cars. I want to hear Sam Worthington, while hosting Saturday Night Live, say, "Ladies and Gentlemen; Beach House." I want some record-collecting elitist asshole in Williamsburg declaring that they liked Beach House first, back before "...all these trendy motherfuckers started liking 'em." I want a corned beef and coleslaw sandwich!


Above all, however, I want Beach House to earn a comfortable living writing and playing these incredible songs of theirs. I want Beach House to be big, on their own terms and well within their comfort levels. I want only good things for this band; they've earned it.

Call this a big, bold, reckless prediction, but I have a feeling 2010 will be Beach House's year.



beachhousebaltimore.com
subpop.com
www.myspace.com/beachhousemusic

Friday, January 1, 2010

THE RUB's 10 Favorite "Things" From The Aughts (2000-2009).

Is the decade that gave us Emo, hotornot.com and "comedian" Larry The Cable Guy really over?

Yes, it really has been 10 years since this new century began. Crazy, ain't it? Now is the time to look back and reflect on that mound of stuff we human beings have created to entertain, and thusly date, ourselves to by.

It's funny. Amid all the Y2-chaos that was the "Roaring Gay Ol' 90's", I don't really remembering anyone looking back on that decade with fond memories. This was the decade that gave us grunge, shoegaze, the definition of what "is" is, and Screaming Elmo (or whatever that must-have toy was called). Maybe we were too busy looking towards the future, to a new century, and hoping zeroed-out computers wouldn't kill our way of life (on accident or on purpose - this is still being debated) to look over our shoulders at what was.

But these are... I mean were The Aughts (that's what we were calling the 2000's, right?) In a decade that gave us iPods, 9/11, "Sexting," and the first African-American President of The United States of America (!), we seemed to be constantly looking back to previous decades for inspiration. How else can you explain some of the questionable fashions passive-aggressively foisted upon us? Severely skinny jeans? Butt-ugly women's shoes? Graphic clusterfuck T-shirts? If anything, aesthetically, we seemed to become a lost decade that just stopped caring about presentation. How else can you explain people who wear their pajamas pants in public, or spend nearly $200.00 for tragically colored Nike's?

But, we can't dwell on the past. Instead, let me dwell on the past... 10 years that is. Below you find my list of those things from 2000 to 2009 that really got me a' consuming. Of course these are 10 things I like and place importance on and consider to be the best (however superfluous they may be - and most likely are.) Your list may vary. 'njoy!



Best Album of The Aughts:
The Shins Oh, Inverted World
2001, Omnibus/Sub Pop Records

I remember the first time I heard "New Slang" by The Shins. As Oh, Inverted World spun on my turntable, I thought, "This song will be their hit. It will endorse Big Macs and be mentioned embarrassingly in a movie that 's a slight rip-off of Wes Anderson's flicks." I bought Oh, Inverted World on the advice of my friend Stephanie while at an Omnibus Records showcase in Sacramento, which featured The Minders. The Shins were on this label, too, before signing with Sub Pop (Omnibus - now defunct - was a Sacramento-based label which released the vinyl version of this album.) There was The Shins' record, on the merch table. It simply looked cool, with those minimalist white poppy branch silhouettes against a baby blue background. It sounded like a new take on the indie-rock template; poppy, with roughly-recorded edges. Songs like "Girl Inform Me", "Know Your Onion" and "The Past and Pending" (one of the best album closers ever) helped solidify The Shins as a band unlike any other at the time; genuine and true to their own whimsical, vulnerable and intelligent sound. And honestly, Oh, Inverted World simply just sounds like the 2000's to me. In reality, however, this album will prove to be timeless.


Best Film of The Aughts:
The American Astronaut
2001, BNS Productions

Sure, The Aughts gave us a treasure trove of not just great films, but great independent films (Brick, Let the Right One In, May, and Me and You and Everyone We Know jump immediately to mind). One of the more surprising films to come out of left field, however, was The American Astronaut, a film byproduct of the art-rock band The Billy Nayer Show and its overachieving leader, Cory McAbee. To call The American Astronaut an odd film is putting it mildly. "Mad genius" seems more like it. Imagine David Lynch crossed with Fritz Lang, with a dash of Joss Wheadon's Firefly thrown into the mix. Then add music (provided by The Billy Nayer Show, naturally) and dancing, and you're in the neighborhood of this film's orbit. McAbee (who wrote and directed) stars as Samuel Curtis, interplanetary trader who roams the rustic and remote solar system. He's tasked by his friend, The Blueberry Pirate (Joshua Taylor), to retrieve The Boy Who Actually Saw A Woman's Breast (Gregory Russel Cook), take him to Venus and exchange him for the recently deceased Johnny R., whose spent his life as the lone stud to the women there; Johnny R.'s bereaved family back on Earth will pay Curtis "a handsome reward" when the body is returned to them. Sounds simple enough, until the sadistic and insane Professor Heiss (Rocco Sisto, in a brilliant performance) shows up and kills everyone Curtis has ever crossed paths with. Filmed in stark black and white, The American Astronaut is wildly imaginative, funny, frightening, and entertaining, with some of the most absolutely catchy musical numbers and "dance" sequences (most notably the scene involving a song called "Hey Boy. Hey Boy") east of Westside Story. This is also a daring little film; something Hollywood seems unable to produce these days. Beyond it's "kooky" plot and eccentric characters, The American Astronaut is, at its core, a story about connecting with one another and what we'll do to get there. Space, as the movie's poster claims, may be a lonely town, but I'm glad it's populated by these folks.



Best Book of The Aughts
33 1/3 Books Series
Continuum International Publishing Group
Various dates within the decade.

For the "WTF Decade", I didn't have a singular book to choose as my favorite. Rather, I chose a series of books. The 33 1/3 Series, to be exact. Within the pages of these nimble, half sized tomes with their economic de stijl-like cover artwork, lurks every minute detail on a plethora of legendary albums, from The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, to Love's Forever Changes, to My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, to The Smith's Meat Is Murder, and so on down the line. If you've ever felt yourself craving more than mere liner notes can deliver, the various writers (Joe Pernice, Allan Moore, Daphne Brooks, etc.) dig deep within each album's
facts, mythologies and trivialities to uncover what made each so special in the first place. No stone is left painstakingly unturned here, and the tiny details that come to light just might shine brightly on a well-worn classic in your collection. The 33 1/3 series entire is essential reading for any self-respecting anglophile.



Best Television Show of The Aughts
The Wire
2002-2008, HBO

I'm just going to come out and say it: The Wire is the best show of the decade, if not in the entire history of television. Now, that is a pretty bold statement, but it is one that I stand behind wholeheartedly. I say this, well aware of brilliant glut of television shows such as Arrested Development, Flight of the Conchords, Firefly, Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Mad Men, Top Gear (U.K.), Curb Your Enthusiasm, Chapelle Show, Sex & the City, The Soup, 30 Rock, The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien, and those shows hatched between 2000 and 2009 that you like and I neglected to mention above. This show, however, about the hazy line between right and wrong, good and bad, is the closest thing to Shakespearean drama of epic proportions we Americans will ever get. Set in Baltimore, The Wire tells a multi-tiered story that connects the cops, the crooks, the politicians, the teachers, the kids, the journalists, and the working class (some good, some bad - all of them flawed, in one way or another) together. No one character is truly good and no one character is truly evil (okay, some, like cold and calculated drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield, played by Jamie Hector, are out-and-out evil, but... ) The Wire is the creation of David Simon (a former teacher, a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, an author - his book Homicide: Life On the Street was the basis for the television show of the same name - and co-writer of the HBO series, The Corner, a precursor of sorts to The Wire), and former Baltimore police detective Ed Burns. They are aided by three talented crime fiction authors: George P. Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, whose book, Clockers, The Wire borrows bits and pieces from. This series also has the distinction of having a cast that's "...a true range of humanity...", with multiple rich and complex characters. There's the deeply flawed, yet resourceful Det. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), his sometimes partner/drinking buddy Bunk Moreland (Windell Pierce), the machination-like drug dealer Stringer Bell (the brilliant Ibris Elba), the likable heroine addict/police informer Bubbles (Andre Royo), his friend on the force, Det. Kima Greggs (Sonya Sohn), the spit and polish Lt. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick, Fringe and Lost), the wise and brilliant Det. Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), the honest and tough D.A., Rhonda Pearlman (Deidre Lovejoy), drug crew chief Preston "Bodie" Broadus (J.D. Williams), and the enigmatic anti-hero and stick-up man Omar Little (Michael K. Williams, Gone Baby Gone), to name but a few of the very, very many (I can honestly be here all week typing in the entire main cast of The Wire, but I'll save my fingers, keyboard and sanity). The Wire is about a society - a system - in freefall, and everyone trying to "get theirs" while they can. It's about decay, both structurally and morally. Baltimore is one city among many, but it's no different than Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Branson, Cleveland, or countless others crumbling apart internally due to drugs, violence and corruption. How did things get this way? What can we do to stop it? Is it too late to do anything at all? The Wire offers no easy answers. In fact, it seems like this show thrived on harsh realities, instead. But in that, there is a tiny glimmer of hope. After all, The Wire reminds you that it's all in game; there is no clear-cut black and white. Sometimes the good guys win, if just barely. The Wire is one of the best - if not the best - television shows in the history of the medium. Oh, indeed!


Best Shoes of The Aughts
adidas "Samba" Classics
2008, purchased at a Fred Meyer in Portland, Ore.

There are several reasons why so many Portland locals wear adidas Samba Classics: they're relatively cheap ($45.00 at any Fred Meyers), they're durable (I've had mine for two years and they still haven't blown-out) and they're pretty damn stylish (you can't go wrong with the black, gum and white colorway). Samba's are sort of the unofficial lo-fi bicycling shoe - they fit the toe clips on on my pedals perfectly. I even like the extra length tongue, though I have no idea what it's function is. These were originally soccer shoes (I think, maybe?), so it could have something to do with that. What I do know is I wear these adidas almost every day. I'm fairly brand loyal, so if I lived in that European village that is divided between adidas and Puma factions (you know the one!), I'd definitely strut with the stripes.




Best Bicycle-Related Thing of The Aughts
Brooks Professional Saddle
2007, Brooks of England

In 2007, I constructed my very first fixed gear bicycle. Inspired by my friend Gina's bike and the website fixedgeargallery.com (see review below), I bought an old road back and set about to build my own steed. I knew very little about the nuts and bolts of bicycling proper then (terminology, sizing, company quality, etc.), but I knew enough to want a Brooks saddle to rest my bum upon. I've made very many foolish choices in my many years of life. Buying a Brooks Professional saddle was not one of them. This saddle is easily one of the best investments I have ever made. Brooks is an English bicycle saddle manufacturer, legendary for hand crafting one of the most well-regarded and comfortable saddles on the market (since the late 19th Century, no less!) In the English tradition, Brooks saddles are refined, dignified and distinguished. The Professional saddle I chose is black with bronze rivets, silver rails and a Brooks emblem on the back. And, my word, is it the most comfortable thing I have ever rested my midnight on. Two years later, and that Brooks Professional saddle still gleams proudly atop my bicycle like the functional keepsake that it is. Good call, that.



Best Live Show of the Aughts
The Shins at The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
February 4th, 2004

Yes, I do listen to bands other than The Shins. And yes, I do go out to see shows by bands that are not The Shins. But, I will admit to seeing The Shins play live on five separate occasions: three times in San Francisco, once in Portland and once in Davis, Calif. Sue me! I mean, I have seen many great shows in the 2000's (Lilys, Yo La Tengo, Andrew Bird, The Walkmen, Unwound, Cat Power, Blonde Redhead, Beirut, The American Analog Set, Rose Melberg, Fuck, The Minders, Stephan Malkmus and The Jicks, Pixies, Radar Bros., !!!, The Ladybug Transistor, Elf Power ...to name but a few), but the best show I can remember being at during The Aughts was this Fillmore show headlined by The Shins. This was during the Chutes Too Narrow tour, and the band sounded energetic and tight (impressive, since they had been on the road for a stretch and this was one of their last shows.) The bands positive energy seemed blanket the usually asshole-ish San Francisco crowd, because everyone around me seemed to actually be having fun - rare smiles and all. A guy next to me bumped me with his elbow and actually asked, with genuine concern, if I was okay. Wha...?!? What magic happy dust did The Shins sprinkle over this normally be-frowned throng? Marty Crandle and his keyboard were front and center, mugging goofy for the crowd. And in a rare show of restraint, James Mercer didn't seem to be annoyed one bit. I think he actually smiled a couple of times at Crandle's antics. The Shins played hit after hit, and encored twice. Mercer told the capacity crowd that they always loved playing The Fillmore, and that San Francisco had one of the best audiences he's ever experienced. And you know what? We believed him; we cheered loud enough. So, you have great evening, filled with great songs, by a great band, transforming post-ironic smirks into smiles, and you leave feeling pretty damn great about the entire experience. I'd say that qualifies as the best show 2000 had to offer. (the only downer of the night had to be the butt-ugly poster for the show. The Shins are synonymous for their whimsical and eye-catching poster art, but someone seriously dropped the ball on this one. I mean, the fuck?!? Other than that, though, everything else about this show was magnificent.)



Best Website of The Aughts
www.fixedgeargallery.com
2001-current

Gawking at the various hand-crafted and labor-of-love bikes on fixedgeargallery.com has become so much of a part of my daily routine that it's automatic: wake-up, email, eat, Facebook, Fixedgeargallery, take a leak, sleep, repeat. As user-gererated content goes, FFG is a goldmine... if you are into fixed gear bicycles, that is. Think of FGG as moto-porn (or porn-porn, even) for the skinny jeans set. Users email the pictures of their bikes (and hopefully a $5.00 donation) to FGG moderator, Dennis, who in-turn posts these pictures up in a matter of days. Bikes range anywhere aesthetically from the truly inspired to the absolutely hideous. FGG also features bike news, stories and contests. But it's the plentiful pictures of bikes that are this site's bread and butter. Who knows? Logging on to fixedgeargallery.com might even inspire you to build-up a rig of your own and submit your creation for the entire world to see. That's what it did for me.


Best Technical Innovation of The Aughts
The iPhone 2G
2008, Apple Inc.

I love my iPhone! It's been two years and I still look at it and think, "this is the best 'thing' I have ever bought, ever!" When I first heard about Apple developing their own "smart phone", I was automatically saying goodbye to whatever amount of money I had in my savings that would ensure me having one. The model I currently own is the 8GB 2G model; a vast improvement over the 1G the Apple salesperson informed upon my purchase in 2008. I could get the newest 3G iPhone, but why? I'm still attached to my battered and worn 2G (we've seen some serious shit go down). Plus, instead of the flat titanium back of the 2G, the 3G has a weird black hump on its back. Gross! This iPhone is the very first Apple product I've ever bought, and I use it everyday. When this phone has finally rung its last number and died, I'm going to wipe away the tears the best I can, place it back in it's original packaging and bury it in the backyard with a tombstone inscribed with its dates of use. Yes, I love my iPhone that much. It is easily my favorite electronic widget of The Aughts.



Best Automobile of The Aughts
2007 Fiat Nuova 500
Fiat Motor Group

No, I have never driven the Fiat Nouva 500. I've never been a passenger in one, nor have I even set foot inside one. I haven't even been withing 4,000 miles of this retro-inspired hot hatchback, for Pete'sake! So what makes me qualify the brand new Fiat Nuova 500 as "the Best Automobile of The Aughts"? Nothing, other than this: LOOK AT THIS THING! IT'S BEAUTIFUL!!! From the moment I saw this cute little car on the British television show Top Gear, I absolutely had to have one (and oh, how I will!) Aside from the aesthetics, this spritely little
Italian number is economical, fuel efficient, comfortable, and smartly built (when's the last time you heard any of that said about a "Fix it Again Tony"?) It cost considerably less than both the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen New Beetle, by $5,000.00. The rub (natch!), however, is this: while the Fiat Nuova 500 has been available in Europe since 2007, it has yet to make it's way Stateside. Of course now that Fiat owns a controlling stake in Chrysler, the 500 is slated for our shores this later year. In fact, the Fiat 500 will be manufactured for America in Mexico (um... ) There are a bevy of 500 models slated for release: this one, the convertible and the turbo Abarth version. And when this Nuova lands, I'm plunking-down good, hard-earned money to finally sit inside one and drive away. Ciao bella!




Best Video of The Aughts
The Shins "The Past and Pending"
Directed by Matt McCormick
2001, Sub Pop Records

Aw, hell. Let's make it three-for-three for The Shins here on THE RUB. The music video for "The Past and Pending" was directed by the Portland-based film maker, Matt McCormick, and was filmed in and around PDX. McCormick's easy pace is perfectly matched with The Shins' bittersweet whimsy on this track. So what do we got going on here? James Mercer, a Plymouth Valiant, a gentle old man riding shotgun, and plenty of beautifully melancholy landscapes for-which to take pictures of. The whole video moves at a butterfly's pace, and you get the feeling that there's no real destination planned for this pair. Who need one? I mean, honestly, who wouldn't want to spend at least one day making slow-motion moments like these? All-in-all, this song and this video sum-up the last turbulent decade perfectly: with a shrug. That was the past. What's pending?