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?

2 comments:

  1. i definitely agree with the shins album, samba shoes, the iphone and the wire, but i can't comment on the other stuff other than to say i've always wanted to read the 33 1/3 books....

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  2. Jeff, I HIGHLY recommend the 33 1/3 series. I've plowed through the "Unknown Pleasures" book and am now reading the "If You're Feeling Sinister" tome. These books and the background information contained within are addictive. You can't read just one.

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