Thursday, December 31, 2009

Delays, Delays

I had originally intended to republish the top Deus Ex Malcontent post of 2009 today, but as it turns out I'm going to put it off for a day (even though doing so kind of violates my policy of only looking forward once 2010 begins).

The reason is that I'm writing a new introduction for it and I just won't have time to finish it today.

I'm sure you nice folks can understand. By all means, be here tomorrow for the final tip of the hat (and flip of the bird) to 2009, now with a tiny drop of Retsyn.

(Update: Did I say Friday? I meant Saturday. Sorry, gang.)

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (2 & 1)

2. Civil Twilight -- Letters from the Sky

While it may be the only ballad that made the list of the 20 Best Singles of 2009, Letters from the Sky deservedly sits far above almost every other song on the countdown. Passionate, powerful and profoundly moving, the breakthrough single from South Africa's Civil Twilight was that rarest of songs: one whose urgency you could actually feel in your bones, that seemed to bleed raw emotion and which had the ability to stop you cold and nearly bring you to your knees at the notion that something could so perfectly express the simultaneous sense of hope and joy, and desperation and tragedy, that makes being in love a state of ironically terrifying grace. What's more, the rest of Civil Twilight's sophomore album, originally released as an independent, was equally excellent -- particularly the hauntingly beautiful Human. But it was Letters from the Sky that swelled and resonated with the kind of epic longing that kept it echoing in your heart for days after it had faded from your ears.

1. 30 Seconds to Mars -- Kings and Queens

In a year when there was little to be found worth being optimistic about, it's ironic -- or maybe it was simply necessary -- that the best single released by any band or artist was a soaring, dramatic full-on rock anthem. It's likely also not a coincidence that that anthem roared so loudly with revival-tent inspirationalism that it was easy to miss the fact that the song was basically, and fittingly, about the end of the world. 30 Seconds to Mars's Kings and Queens exploded out of your speakers in a wall of big, bold reverb and never let up, even when frontman Jared Leto brought the verses down to a near whisper. For the kind of song it was, it was the perfect song: an ambitious, walloping paean to U2 with just enough lofty symphonic pretentiousness to make you take it seriously but not so much that you laughed at the young band with the chutzpah to attempt it. Call it Where the Brats Have No Name. More than anything else, though, it was simply a really, really good pop-rock single -- heroic and hopeful, like a call to arms shouted from the top of a mountain, and chill-inducing in its youthful exuberance. Nothing else on 30 Seconds to Mars's 2009 album This is War even came close to matching its quality, but maybe that just added to the feeling that, in a very dark year, Kings and Queens was something special.

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 3. Phoenix -- 1901; 4. Silversun Pickups -- Panic Switch

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 5. Lady GaGa -- Bad Romance; 6. Alice in Chains -- Check My Brain

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 7. Spinnerette -- Baptized by Fire; 8. Deadmau5 & Kaskade -- I Remember

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother; 10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reaper What You Sow

Come on, 2009. You've got 24 hours left.

Make it count.

The Washington Post: Rush Limbaugh Taken to Hospital with Chest Pains/12.30.09

Top 29 of 2009 (29-2)

Someone mentioned to me recently that if you have the patience to go back and read through the Deus Ex Malcontent archive, the material published on this site, taken in totality, provides a very visible, compelling story arc of the person who's been writing and editing it daily for the past three-and-a-half years. I'd probably be willing to see this phenomenon for myself -- to attempt to closely examine the little details and overarching sea changes that were willingly consigned to the big picture of history via the internet and now provide mile markers on the road of one human life -- if it weren't for the fact that the writer and editor in question is me. I just can't detach, play anthropologist, and Brundlefly it up these days -- maybe because I really have, over the past year, felt as if things were often spinning out of control and beyond any hope of revocability.

Put simply, 2009 was a bad year.

I guess it makes sense that the material you found here at Deus Ex Malcontent over the past year seemed to, even through nothing more than mere synchronicity, reflect the mood throughout the country. Not everyone out there watched their marriage crumble, were separated from their new baby daughter, lived in limbo between two cities, saw their sense of security and self -- their faith in love and in their own judgment -- stripped away. But there were a lot of people who were scared for, or at the very least uncertain about, the future, who were struggling to find their footing in a decimated job market, who lost faith in the idea that the little guy -- the average, hard-working American -- would prevail and the liars, cheats and thieves who'd collapsed the global economy would pay dearly. The election of Barack Obama gave many hope -- and I still believe that that hope isn't misplaced. But the kind of insanity and hostility we've watched metastasize all year across the political spectrum has been nothing short of panic-inducing.

And so, Deus Ex Malcontent reflected that. There were more quickie posts that acted as stinging shots to the head than in previous years, more rude, raunchy and sardonic gallows humor aimed at expressing my frustration with the relentless lunacy going on in the outside world while misanthropically alleviating the pain and anger swirling around my own head and heart. Honestly, I think the tone of DXM changed somewhat this year -- some will say for the better, some for the worse, some won't even have noticed, some will simply understand and accept that there is in fact an "arc" to this site since it chronicles the events and mood of the culture and, of course, mirrors my own mood.

Admittedly, I can still pat myself on the back for being prolific when it comes to content on Deus Ex Malcontent: When all is said and done, I'll have put more on the site this year than in any previously -- which actually does make it tough to narrow down the "Top 29" of the past twelve months. Like last year, I chose the pieces that generated the most reaction -- positive, negative or otherwise -- and asked for the input of a couple of readers whose opinions I trust to help me come up with a list of the "best" posts of the year and put them in order. The only column that wasn't eligible for inclusion as far as I was concerned was the 2008 year-ender, That Stupid Year: The Ten Most Ridiculous, Shameful or Generally Unfortunate People and Events of 2008, which was published as a completed piece on January 5th of this year but would've felt like cheating. Everything else was in bounds.

I'm okay with the end result. I think it's a pretty fair portrait of what DXM has been about this year. As always, I have to thank you all for being so kind in your support of this site and the considerable amount of work I put into it.

So let's get this show on the road so we can wrap things up and only look forward. Here now, the Top 29 Posts of 2009 -- 2 through 28.

29. The President is Near/1.16.09

28. Jesus Hates Me, This I Know/5.26.09

27. Welcome To the Suck/12.1.09

26. Exit Music (For a Film)/1.19.09

25. The Way It Was (and Never Will Be Again)/7.20.09

24. The Conversation/4.1.09

23. Guinea Pigs/12.14.09

22. In the Heat of the Night/8.11.09

21. Partisan Crashers/11.10.09

20. The Ugly Truth/11.13.09

19. Reject the Cock/10.23.09

18. Judge Dread/5.1.09

17. The Mad Profit of the Airwaves/9.18.09

16. Tales from the City/9.16.09

15. Game Over/1.30.09

14. Time Out/10.19.09

13. Schoolyard Bullies/9.4.09

12. A Petition To the State of California in Support of Roger Avary/9.30.09

11. With Friends Like These.../8.21.09

10. Feast of Burden/11.25.09

9. The Fall of Roman/9.29.09

8. Get Rich and Die Tryin'/3.16.09

7. Now It's Quiet/5.27.09

6. Autism Speaks (and Speaks, and Speaks)/5.6.09

5. And Now, an Open Letter to Kate Gosselin/8.27.09

4. What a Long, Strange, Thoroughly Obnoxious Trip It's Been/9.1.09

3. Revolutionary Goad/4.7.09

2. The Glenn Beck Show Generator/3.18.09

Tomorrow: #1

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (4 & 3)

4. Silversun Pickups -- Panic Switch

From the beginning, L.A. indie darlings Silversun Pickups were destined to draw comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins. Their name bore a seemingly not-coincidental similarity to the Pumpkins, both bands had a female bass player, and both featured wispy vocals that floated effortlessly over a non-stop arsenal of eminently catchy hooks and melodies. Well, if Silversun's debut album, Carnavas, felt like it harnessed the most upbeat elements of the Pumpkins' mien, the band's 2009 follow-up, Swoon, dispensed with the niceties and went for the jugular in a way that sounded distinctly un-Pumpkinslike. The result was a truly dark and fierce listening experience, regardless of how offset the band's machine-gun blast of corrosive guitars and overall sonic immediacy seemed to be by frontman Brian Aubert's breathy, ethereal voice. While the best song on Swoon was, hands-down, The Royal We, the first single to hit the airwaves and introduce audiences to the new direction Silversun had chosen to head in deserves plenty of credit for being so damned surprising. It's tough to imagine that anyone expected this kind of fire from a band like Silversun Pickups, and that's what made Panic Switch so thoroughly enjoyable.

3. Phoenix -- 1901

There's nothing like a story of overnight success that's anything but. Case in point: Phoenix. Formed in the late 90s in Versailles, France, Phoenix has spent the past ten-plus years backing up bands like Air while putting their own Strokes-meets-Jamiroquai sound to record. But it wasn't until this past year -- with the release of their fantastic Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album -- that the little band that always could finally did. Bolstered by the strength of what might be the best true alternative track of the year, 1901, Phoenix was the "It" band of 2009 -- a group that out-Vampire Weekended Vampire Weekend. 1901 was the kind of song that immediately bored its way into your brain; it felt like the best elements of 80s synth-pop repurposed with new purpose -- as opposed to simply being lazily rehashed -- and it didn't just bring audiences crawling on their hands and knees to Phoenix, it also caught the attention of Cadillac, whose ad agency used 1901 in a TV campaign for the carmaker's new crossover vehicle. These days, that's the mark of real success.

Tomorrow: 2 & 1

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 5. Lady GaGa -- Bad Romance; 6. Alice in Chains -- Check My Brain

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 7. Spinnerette -- Baptized by Fire; 8. Deadmau5 & Kaskade -- I Remember

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother; 10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (6 & 5)

6. Alice in Chains -- Check My Brain

Who'd have thought it possible? 14 years after their last album of new material, Alice in Chains thundered back in 2009 with a song that wasn't just a respectable post-Layne Staley effort -- it was damn well one of Alice in Chains's best singles, period. With new frontman William Duvall stepping in for the late, great Staley and Jerry Cantrell once again assuming the role of the second half of Alice's frontal assault of harmonic acrobatics, Check My Brain was a full-on powerhouse of a song. It was with a tip of the hat to irony that after a storied career sludging through the dark murk of Seattle's signature sound, Alice's new single focused on -- of all things -- California. The first line alone let you know that the band had somehow emerged into the light: "So I found myself in the sun, oh yeah/hell of a place to end a run, oh yeah/California I'm fine, somebody check my brain." But while the lyrics may have signaled a newfound respect for survival, the buzzsaw guitars and swirling harmonies let you know that some things hadn't changed -- and, man, what a beautiful thing that was. Welcome back, boys.

5. Lady GaGa -- Bad Romance

Love her or hate her, you can't deny her: 2009 belonged to Lady GaGa. Sure, Poker Face and Paparazzi were more infectious than Ebola and only slightly less dangerous when exposed to for long periods of time. But it was late in the year that GaGa unleashed her best single yet -- the song that allowed her to fulfill the promise she'd shown when she first grabbed pop culture by the balls: Bad Romance. It seems too early to call the single "classic GaGa" but in the kinetic, ADD world we now inhabit -- where a year ago seems like ancient history -- maybe it's not as impossible as you'd think. It's probably better, though, to just say that Bad Romance has the self-proclaimed product that is Lady GaGa firing on all cylinders and the result is hot, cool, sexy, and just plain bad-ass. Say what you will, it's a great fucking song.

Tomorrow: 4 & 3

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 7. Spinnerette -- Baptized by Fire; 8. Deadmau5 & Kaskade -- I Remember

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother; 10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

The Ploy from Brazil

Ah, Today Show -- I knew you'd figure out a way to be a national punchline one last time before the end of the year.

Not Surprising: that NBC and the Today Show essentially paid for the first interview with David Goldman, who just got his son back after an extended international custody battle.

Surprising: that Meredith Vieira didn't invite Goldman to join the Mile-High Club on the ride back from Brazil.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Year of Living Painfully

Maybe it's fitting that I've had a line from, of all things, a movie by crap auteur Michael Bay running through my head as 2009 finally, mercifully draws to a close.

It's from Armageddon -- when Bruce Willis's character and his crew of roughnecks have successfully drilled through to the core of the killer asteroid and are preparing to drop a nuclear bomb into the hole that will blow the whole thing to kingdom come. Suddenly, the environment on the asteroid becomes even more volatile -- explosive gas vents going off all over the place and violent quakes that throw the astronauts this way and that way -- causing Willis to say something about how it's obvious the rock they're hurtling toward Earth on doesn't like them being there. That's when Will Patton's character responds determinedly, "That's because it knows we're here to kill it."

Is there a better way to account for what we've witnessed in the climactic, chaotic final days of a year that's been almost universally held up for contempt? A massive winter storm that socked most of the country, an attempted "underwear bombing" on-board a packed commercial airliner leading to pandemonium for holiday travelers, another shocking celebrity death adding one last exclamatory notch on the scythe of a Reaper who seemed to rarely rest in 2009. I can't help but think that it's probably a good idea to spend the next two days cowering under a desk somewhere with your head down, praying that a solar flare doesn't cook us all before the clock can strike midnight on Thursday putting this God-forsaken year to rest once and for all. 48 hours is plenty of time for 2009 to kill everyone it hasn't gotten to yet.

It's saying something when the epic awfulness of the aforementioned Michael Bay's Transformers 2 was the least terrible thing we as a nation were forced to endure this year.

So what can I possibly add to any final assessment of 2009? What's a suitable epitaph for a year that ends the most painful decade many of us have seen in our lifetimes -- a year that itself gave us a near daily gangbang of unrelenting absurdity and positively malignant stupidity? How can anyone spin shit into comedy gold and turn a clever phrase or two that might at the very least alleviate the profoundly depressing nature of 2009 by some small measure?

Maybe someone can -- but I can't.

And that's why, as much as it pains me to say this because I have no choice but to consider it a concession of defeat, a dereliction of duty on my part, there's just no way in hell that I'm going to be able to crank out the year-end piece that I promised a couple of weeks ago -- something that looks back and heaps appropriately humorous ridicule on the most offensive people and events of 2009.

Why? Simple. Because it was all offensive.

I've spent the past several days sitting in front of my open laptop, letting its little flashing cursor mock my inability to put into words what I want -- what I need -- to say about all that we've witnessed in 2009. One of the most fundamental problems I've encountered is that there's just no way I could offer any surprises in a list that counted down the "worst of the worst" of this past year. You already know who the worst people were; you've been reading about them here and everywhere else -- thanks to a slavishly obsessive media that thrives on conflict and elevates those who engage in it for self-serving reasons to Zeitgeist levels -- day in and day out for the past twelve months. How can I properly categorize the various virulent strains of blatant ridiculousness we've been throttled by as a culture? What makes Sarah Palin more balls-out fucking stupid than Glenn Beck, or either of them more shamefully, cartoonishly insane than Michele Bachmann or the Teabagging Army? How can I hammer Joe Lieberman, Kanye West and Lou Dobbs when just a year ago I ventured that they had each reached a personal best in his own narcissistic loathsomeness (an assertion that turned out to be wrong on all counts)? What do you do when you'd like to see both Perez Hilton and Carrie Prejean -- the two sides of a public feud that occupied far too much airtime and copy space in 2009 -- get hit by a bus? When you sometimes feel like there was nobody to root for?

Millions were unemployed, yet Lloyd Blankfein still got rich doing "God's work." Detroit all but collapsed. Michael Jackson's monstrous father used his son's death as an excuse to plug a record label. A bunch of European intellectuals dared to make arrogant excuses for a child rapist because he happened to have directed The Pianist. Tiger Woods fucked everything in sight -- including himself. Patrick Swayze, Farrah Fawcett and John Hughes died and Orly Taitz, Dick Cheney and that idiot who wrote those Twilight books didn't. Lies were presented as fact and debated endlessly on cable news while naked hypocrisy went unchallenged. The American dream, more than ever, felt like just that: a dream and nothing more. People actually gave a crap about Jon and Kate and the Octomom and, as such, reality TV finally fulfilled its cultural destiny of metastasizing into a purely toxic substance that had the power to put the safety of the President of the United States at risk and make reputable news organizations look like fools for chasing after an empty silver balloon flying over Colorado. Lady GaGa was right: Fame became a monster.

And yeah, almost none of it was funny -- and as much as I wish I could, I'm not sure I can make it funny. Taken as a whole, it was too dispiriting, infuriating and flat-out exhausting to be funny.

So, maybe the only way to go -- the best parting shot to take -- is to simply say a hearty "fuck you, 2009" and look only forward.

I'll begin doing that in a couple of days. For now, though, I'm crawling back under my desk and hiding. I just don't trust this year; it's still got some fight left in it and, like I said, 48 hours is a long time.

Talk to me on Friday morning.

Bring on 2010 -- it can't come soon enough.

Quote of the Day

"Hey Nick, Your fucked. I am suing you tomorrow personally. You messed with the wrong guy. No one make up lies about me and gets away with it. I lost a 10 million dollar deal as a direct result of you calling me "a rapist." You will be paying me every dime of that back and more! Are you mentally retarded? Do your research first. I am coming after you harder then I have ever went after anyone. I am going to wipe you off the grid!!!! YOU ARE DONE! I will take everything you have. You, Nick Denton are truly the "Douche of the Decade" Merry Xmas IDIOT!!! Joe Francis"

-- "Girls Gone Wild" CEO and unbelievable fuckstick Joe Francis in an e-mail to Gawker chief Nick Denton after Gawker named Francis the "Douche of the Decade" and repeated a rape accusation against him first publicized in a piece in the Los Angeles Times from 2006 (which by the way drew an equally amusing and indignant response from Francis)

Do yourself a favor and read the Gawker story, and pay special attention to the amusingly absurd lengths Francis goes to to find an excuse for attaching a shirtless picture of himself to the above e-mail.

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (8 & 7)

8. Deadmau5 and Kaskade -- I Remember

There are scant few DJs who can make the transition from the clubs to the singles charts: BT, Paul Oakenfold, DJ Shadow, the Crystal Method -- only a handful seem to know how to turn skills at the turntables into an ability to put together great songs of their own. In late 2008, Canadian DJ Deadmau5 (AKA Joel Zimmerman) teamed with Chicago-based American DJ Kaskade (AKA Ryan Raddon) and created one of those boundary-smashing singles that reminds even listeners who've never been into the rave/club scene what the draw is for so many. I Remember was gorgeous, intoxicating stuff -- a silky-smooth blast of warm air you wanted to close your eyes and drift away on, compliments of the two DJs' stylish and perfectly restrained beats and the lovely, hopeful voice of singer Haley Gibbby. It was the rare techno single that worked on every level, which is why it spent a good portion of 2009 on the UK Singles chart and Billboard's Hot Dance Airplay chart here in the United States.

7. Spinnerette -- Baptized by Fire

Most fans of punk rock loathe change. Like their metal and hardcore counterparts, they consider growth to be a sign of the dreaded (and completely ridiculous) notion of "selling out." With that in mind, you can imagine what greeted the Distillers' punk goddess Brody Dalle when she teamed with journeyman musical genius Alain Johannes -- and unofficially with husband Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age -- to create Spinnerette. One listen to the new direction Dalle was heading in and the battle lines were instantly drawn in the punk-alt community. As usual, though, the hold-outs and naysayers were letting juvenile prejudices get in the way of a hell of a listening experience, because Spinnerette's debut album sounded exactly like what it was: the perfectly natural evolution of a singer and songwriter who was always destined to be more than just punk's prettiest face. The record's first single, Baptized by Fire, showed a startling level of maturity. It still had an edge and a now-subtler sneer to it, but this tale of abandoning a bad relationship wasn't about smashing furniture and petulantly flipping off the one who's caused so much pain; it was about turning away and never looking back -- which any adult will tell you is the biggest "fuck you" of all.

Tomorrow: 6 & 5

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother; 10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Unfriendly Skies

Thank you for flying Knee-Jerk Airlines, where the illusion of safety is always our top priority.

Remember back when authorities in Great Britain foiled a plot to detonate liquid explosives on-board ten airliners bound for the U.S. and Canada? Whether you know the specific details of the 2006 arrests or the terrorist plans, you're damn sure familiar with the fallout from that threat: Since then you've been forced by the TSA to adhere to a set of byzantine, seemingly arbitrary restrictions on what liquids you can and can't stow in carry-on luggage -- how many ounces are acceptable and in what kind of clear plastic bag they have to be contained -- each time you fly. While those restrictions have relaxed somewhat over the past couple of years -- often dependent on how generous the particular security juggernaut you face at the airport is feeling on the day you happen to be flying -- they're still very much in place. The last time I flew north to pick up Inara, the humorless TSA employee manning the scanner took a tube of Crest toothpaste from my bag and held it up in front of me as if to signal to me that I should've known better than to try to get it past him. I wanted to grab it out of his hand and squeeze the whole fucking thing into my mouth, but thought the better of it.

Well, if you thought that that reaction was ridiculously overcompensatory and likely did almost nothing to make you safer in the skies other than maybe forcing you to rethink flying altogether, get ready -- shit's about to get a whole lot worse. In response to yesterday's arrest of a Nigerian man who allegedly tried to blow up a Delta/Northwest flight as it landed in Detroit, transportation officials and Homeland Security are announcing new restrictions on passenger behavior while flying within the continental United States. New rules will forbid airline passengers from getting up from their seats, accessing their carry-on luggage or having personal belongings on their laps during the final hour of flight before landing. This kind of thing has been in place at Reagan Airport in D.C. since the 9/11 attacks; now it'll be implemented nationwide.

Will this make anyone safer? Probably not -- but that's not really the point.

What makes these new restrictions so laughably outrageous is this: They're a reaction to a suddenly perceived threat that's technically been there all along. Like the liquid ban, which was a response to an attempted attack that had already taken place, this is a case of America's ostensibly sharpest minds in the realm of national security responding to a situation rather than planning for it in advance and thereby heading it off at the pass. Did we never realize that it was possible for terrorists to bring liquid explosives onto planes? If so, then why the hell were liquids of a certain volume ever allowed onto flights; if not, then for fuck's sake why not? Likewise, did no one ever consider the possibility that someone could blow up a plane as it prepared to land? And isn't a threat while landing completely arbitrary anyway -- and our reaction to it, to restrict the movement of passengers during landing, just as arbitrary and worthless?

The only way to truly keep us truly safe while flying a commercial airliner would be to put us all through body scanners then have us fly in our underwear, forcing every passenger to check his or her bags and carry nothing on. And even then, I'd bet my life -- literally, because there's no other option -- that those who want to kill us would just find some other way to accomplish their goals.

And then the geniuses at the TSA would simply wind up having to impose a knee-jerk crackdown on something else as a response to that "new threat." If and when that happens, the newer, harsher security measures will be exactly what they are now: a floor show, and nothing more.

Screen Saver

This is very cool and extraordinarily well put-together. It's a compilation of some of the best the movies had to offer in 2009 (or as somebody very clever put it, a trailer for the most expensive film ever made).

Friday, December 25, 2009

Inara's Big Music Show

All I Want for Christmas Is...

Mass Hysteria

"During the procession an unstable person jumped a barrier and knocked down the Holy Father."

-- Rev. Ciro Benedettini, Vatican spokesman

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (10 & 9)

10. My Chemical Romance -- Desolation Row

Laugh all you want. I know I did the first time I heard that My Chemical Romance would be covering Bob Dylan's nearly twelve minute surrealist folk epic Desolation Row for the Watchmen soundtrack. Admittedly, MCR was just coming off the success of their wildly ambitious -- and shockingly good -- homage to Queen and the Beatles, The Black Parade, but news of this cover made me think they'd started believing their own hype a little too much and had seriously lost their fucking minds. And then I heard it. I'll never doubt this band again. What My Chemical Romance did was strip the song down to just under three minutes, speed it up so that it barreled along with monstrous punk ferocity and cranked the amps to 11. The result was, honest-to-God, one of the coolest covers not just of the year but maybe ever. It was fast, it was furious, and it heralded the arrival of My Chemical Romance: kick-ass rock and roll band.

9. The Dead Weather -- Treat Me Like Your Mother

At this point, Jack White's inescapable ubiquity inspires either respect or flat-out loathe. He'd already spent a few years playing with and producing for anyone and everyone and had fronted two separate bands -- the White Stripes and the Raconteurs -- before putting together the alterna-supergroup The Dead Weather with Kills singer Alison Mosshart earlier this year. But while White's vanity by now kind of feels like the stuff of legend, it's tough to argue with the result of the Dead Weather project: The band's debut album, Horehound, is spectacular. White's Zeppelin-like riffs crunching atop Mosshart's cigarette-and-whiskey soaked voice made for the kind of rock you don't hear much anymore: sexy and sultry, lean and mean. But while there was a lot of blues-inspired slink on Horehound, it was the balls-out fuzzbox fury of the album's second single, Treat Me Like Your Mother, that showed what the band was really capable of. The song was a relentless assault on your eardrums, in the best possible way -- and the video for it was easily the very best released this year.

Monday: 8 & 7

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 11. Little Boots -- New In Town; 12. Miike Snow -- Silvia

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

Thursday, December 24, 2009

...And To All a Good Night

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Listening Post: Christmas Eve Edition

Joni Mitchell's River


Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (12 & 11)

12. Miike Snow -- Silvia

Another Swedish band -- although light years apart from The Sounds (#13) -- Miike Snow had a very, very good year by eschewing convention and creating one of the most interesting and textured aural soundscapes put to record in 2009. Their self-titled debut album was a study in contrasts: cool and aloof and yet oddly warm and inviting, simple and seemingly indie-inspired and yet displaying its lush pop sensibilities proudly on its sleeve at every turn. While Animal and Black and Blue were the first and second single from the album, respectively, it was the song adopted by L.A.'s KCRW and assorted other excellent alternative programming stations here in the U.S. that really knocked it out of the park. At well over six minutes long, Silvia was this year's I Will Possess Your Heart -- a layered, hypnotic and atmospheric journey that pulsed with a thick yet unobtrusive techo beat. Its subtlety was its surprise, since this kind of sound is the last thing you'd ever expect from the production team that brought you Britney Spears's Toxic, the members of which make up two-thirds of Miike Snow.

Little Boots -- New In Town

If this list considered only straight-up pop songs, New In Town would be perched comfortably at the top without a challenger in sight. British singer and multi-instrumentalist Victoria Hesketh -- AKA Little Boots -- seemed to come out of nowhere in 2009 with a breakthrough track that's honestly one for the pop music ages. New In Town was everything a great single should be: brash, fun, funky, immediate, and at the same time showing a hint of playful malevolence lurking just beneath the surface of all that gloss. It was the perfect track to make audiences sit up and take notice of Little Boots, and it'll be interesting to see in which direction her career goes from here. For now, we can be content to listen to New In Town on repeat, since it's tough to imagine it getting old anytime soon.

Tomorrow: 10 & 9

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake; 14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

Quote of the Day

""I said, 'Let's start doing some Glenn Beck stuff but in praise of Glenn Beck. But every time we do one, he will have done something dumber. He raised the stupid bar and now it's nearly inapproachable.'"

-- Stephen Colbert on the difficulty of trying to satirize Glenn Beck

The Eve of History

The Huffington Post: Senate Passes Historic Health Care Legislation in Rare Christmas Eve Vote/12.24.09

In other good news, there's this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Girl Power

This is pretty much the coolest thing ever. From Matthew Vaughn, the director of Layer Cake, it's the red-band trailer for Kick-Ass.

Get used to the phrase, "Hit-Girl rules!" You're gonna be hearing and saying it a lot.

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (14 & 13)

14. Blue October -- Dirt Room

Justin Furstenfeld has issues. The frenzied frontman for Blue October ended the year by having a near-mental breakdown that forced the band to cancel a large part of its American tour -- and one listen to the incendiary first single from Blue October's 2009, Steve Lillywhite-produced album Approaching Normal might help explain why. What makes Dirt Room so good may not be the song itself so much as its relation to the political and cultural climate it happened to be released into: While Furstenfeld claims that the song's vicious storyline was written with an old manager in mind, it could easily be translated as a revenge fantasy for anyone who's recently been laid off or found him or herself forced to struggle while the obscenely wealthy remain that way -- especially with a furious chorus like "you think you own me/you should've known me/you took the future and the food off my family's plate/you think you'll use me/I'm stronger than you/you take my money but it's useless when you see what I do to you." It was a powerful statement, and one that might've made Dirt Room, intentionally or not, the anthem of 2009.

13. The Sounds -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake

A lot of bands from Central and Northern Europe are amusing because they seem to either A) be stuck in a perpetual time-loop that keeps them 20 years behind the rest of the civilized music world, or B) be a bizarre amalgam of styles and elements from various musical genres all pureed into one slightly cartoonish final product. How else to explain Black Metal -- or The Sounds? Hailing from Sweden, The Sounds have spent the past several years doing a slightly updated take on 80s new wave. Occasionally their penchant for unabashed nostalgia has translated into good music, occasionally not -- but the lead-off single from their 2009 album Crossing the Rubicon was entirely new territory for them: a song that leaped out of the speakers and grabbed you by the throat. Highlighted by frontwoman Maja Ivarsson -- who sports a Debbie Harry-meets-Farrah haircut and sings kind of like Dale Bozzio in her heyday -- No One Sleeps When I'm Awake was immediately captivating and an all-around blast of a song: fiery, fierce and danceable as all hell. Unfortunately, there wasn't much else on the album that rose to its level of greatness, but as a one-off single it was tough to beat this year.

Tomorrow: 12 & 11

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind; 16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist

Big Dumb Sex

As if on cue, like some Christmas anti-miracle, the day after I posted Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind as one of the Best Singles of 2009, I find that it's featured prominently in the new trailer for Sex and the City 2. This of course isn't the least bit surprising since it would've taken zero imagination to make that connection and use the popular and bombastic paean to New York to pimp something Sex and the City-related. It doesn't diminish the song in any way -- aside from making me suddenly think that Jay should've included a line about the horses in Central Park -- but it is a little amusing to conflate an urban hip-hop star's experiences all across the city to the adventures of four badly-dressed perimenopausal white women who for the most part wouldn't be caught dead south of 14th street or north of 86th.

You know something, though? Since it's the day before Christmas Eve, I think I'll pass on once again mercilessly mocking Sex and the City and its aging, ahem, "stable" of stars. Today, I'm outsourcing the ridicule to Opie and Anthony. Listen below to hear them make all kinds of fun of the last Sex and the City movie.


Quote of the Day

"(Jay Leno's show is) performing exactly as we expected it to on the network... At the same time, we are also aware that the show may not be achieving acceptable levels for our affiliate stations and we continue to look at ways to improve."

-- NBC Spokesman addressing the concerns of network affiliates who've seen their prime time and 11pm news ratings plummet since the debut of the terminally underperforming Jay Leno Show

Now then, let's run this quote through the Adminispeak 2000 Media Manager Translator, shall we?

Here's what we get: "Leno's still costing us nothing to produce which means we're still making money off of it which is all that really matters to us. In case you hadn't noticed, we've spent the past few years shifting our focus away from local television (since it's a dying industry) and investing in new media and DVR programming models (since that's the way most of America will be watching our shows soon). It's too bad you affils are hurting but we really can't be bothered to care, so suck on it, K-SHIT in Middle of Nowhere, Nebraska."

All I Want for Christmas Is an Enemies List

From a really entertaining little piece in the Immoral Minority detailing how a handful of specific bloggers -- in the spirit of the season, you're welcome to refer to them henceforth as the "Four Wise-Asses" -- have actually been banned from attending any of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue events:

"My first hint that something may be wrong down in Who-ville was when I was asked for my ID, not once, but twice. Then as Dennis and I were about to sign in, and the lady behind the desk took our picture with a little digital camera! ...

Almost as soon as I had my picture taken I felt a hand on my shoulder.

I turned around and came face to face with a local police officer who quickly apologized and then informed me that I was on the 'banned list.'

'I am on the WHAT list?' I asked.

'The banned list sir, I am going to have to escort you off of the property. This is a private event.'

On my way toward the door I stopped to wait for Dennis so that we could leave together, however the police officer again placed his hand on my shoulder and insisted that I continue on toward the exit. ... Outside Dennis joined me and told me that he had learned that both he and I were on the banned list, along with Shannyn Moore, and that they even had pictures of us to reference for quick identification."

As Gawker puts it, "This story is a who's who of the Wasilla Hillbilly's pettiest feuds."

Gawker: The Four Bloggers Palin Has Banned/12.23.09

Christmas Evil

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

"...merged bill may b unrecognizable from what assumed was a done deal:R death panels back in?"

-- Take a wild guess, via Twitter

In a related item, there's this.

(h/t Cesca)

Meta-Reality TV

Be very afraid. As Gawker so beautifully put it -- they've become self-aware.

Listening Post: The 20 Best Singles of 2009 (16 & 15)

16. Company of Thieves -- Oscar Wilde

When it comes to churning out artists that know how to write great songs, there's gotta be something in the water in Chicago. Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, Fall Out Boy, Cheap Trick -- all came from the Windy City or nearby and all have a singular knack for creating glorious, hook-laden rock gems. Now you can add Company of Thieves to that list. The band's debut album, Ordinary Riches, was originally released as an indie a couple of years back but went major label in 2009; it's filled to the brim with the kind of breezy, engaging songs that seemed guaranteed to draw a cult-like fan base -- one that would be both desperate to tell the world about the great new band they discovered and eager to keep the secret to themselves. The anchor of Ordinary Riches was the album's first single, Oscar Wilde, an infectious piece of ear-candy with just enough breathy sensuality -- provided by cute-as-a-button frontwoman Genevieve Schatz -- and quirky art-school aspirations to lift it from lightweight to literary. It was one of those songs that got stuck in your head the minute you heard it, and that's the best that any band -- or listener -- could ask for.

15. Jay-Z (w/Alicia Keys) -- Empire State of Mind

Not that it ever would've been a problem, but at least no one can claim that Jay-Z isn't audacious. In 2009 he "sampled" the name of a classic song by a fellow New York City icon, got another New Yorker to lend her powerhouse vocals, and basically name checked anything and everything in the five boroughs -- all to create the best damn musical paean to the Big Apple to come along in years: Empire State of Mind. Sure, his flow felt a little clumsy at times and, of course, the track was really more about the God J Hova than anyone or anything else. (Look no further than, "Shit, I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.") But, man, when Alicia Keys' soaring voice blooms out of nowhere to carry the chorus, it feels like you're actually being lifted up over the city she's singing about -- and you believe every single word she's saying about the magic of Gotham. All in all it's cheesy stuff, but hell if it isn't appropriately big, bombastic entertainment.

Tomorrow: 14 & 13

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 17. Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Heads Will Roll; 18. Doves -- Jetstream

The 20 Best Singles of 2009: 19. Mos Def -- Quiet Dog; 20. Florence + the Machine -- Kiss With a Fist


Trusted to Busted

There was a time when the job of the press was to discern truth from bullshit and report accordingly.

More than any other year previously, 2009 changed all that.

From Balloon Boy to death panels to anything Dick Cheney had to say, Salon documents the seemingly endless parade of lies, hoaxes and general nonsense stories that were slavishly obsessed over by the media during the past year.

Salon: The Bogus Stories of the Year/12.21.09

Caption This Shit!

From just a few moments ago at the New York Stock Exchange -- Darth Vader and the Imperial Stormtroopers, ahem, clone troopers ring the opening bell.

The first things that come to mind are, "After successfully testing the Death Star on Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs assumes complete control of the galaxy," "Lloyd Blankfein finally dispenses with the costume," and "It's tuesday."

In all honesty, people on Wall Street running into Darth Vader must be like in American Psycho where everybody confuses Patrick Bateman with Paul Allen. They just look at Vader and say, "Oh, good morning, Lloyd."

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Heard the Balls on Christmas Day

Last year, I pleaded with parents and fans of decent music everywhere to take away the cellphones and computers of 'tweens in an effort to ensure that David Cook took the American Idol crown from willowy little frump David Archuleta.

The idea was twofold: to take a stand for decent music and at least relatively honest talent, and to put a steel-toed boot down on the neck of the 'tween hive-mind juggernaut that had basically taken the breadth of the pop culture landscape hostage.

I thought it was a pretty entertaining way to pass the time: casually crushing the dreams of a bunch of kids who were gonna eventually have to learn that life sucks anyway.

But my idea was amateur hour compared to the stroke of subversive genius a bunch of music fans just pulled in Britain.

The Huffington Post: Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name Takes Christmas #1 Spot in UK, Beating Reality TV Star's Cover of Miley Cyrus Song/12.21.09

If you've seen the movie Love, Actually, you get an idea how this works: Each year there's a battle for the top of the singles chart in Britain -- which is determined exclusively by the buying public -- to coincide with Christmas week. Almost every time, the winner is some manner of syrupy, inoffensive pop schlock like the Spice Girls or one of Simon Cowell's little creations that he spawned in a vat in the basement of his mansion. Well, this time around a couple of very clever Rage fans got on Facebook and started an organized campaign to use one of the most incendiary singles in modern rock history (come on, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!" shouted over and over again?) to play a Project Mayhem-style prank on Christmas, Disney-approved pre-packaged pop and the eardrums of polite British society.

And it fucking worked.

Bravo, guys. I bow to you.

Now if you can just get Rage to play the song live from a boat on the Thames as it floats by during the Queen's Jubilee celebration, you'll be set.

Speaking of which, while I love every second of this, it doesn't change the fact that Rage Against the Machine -- a band that can admittedly be credited with recording some great stuff -- are basically still a bunch of pompous jackasses. Just read this hilariously over-the-top quote thanking their fans for making their big win on the British charts possible:

"This is a huge victory by and for fans of real music and we extend our heartfelt thanks to every fan and freedom fighter who helped make our anthem of defiance and rebellion the Anarchy Christmas Miracle of 2009."

Yup, that sounds like Rage. The people who got involved probably think of themselves as average folks who just got sick of hearing treacly crap at Christmas and spent a dollar or two to stick it to the Simon Cowell reality TV hit machine; to Zach and Company, they're Sandinistas coming out of the hills armed with AKs and wearing red armbands.

Sure, they could be kidding -- but when was the last time you heard Rage Against the Machine joke about anything?

It's Raining Men

(Insert Anderson Cooper joke here.)*

Gawker: CNN Runs iReport on Florida Storm from Gay Porn Star/12.21.09

*Heh, heh -- insert.

Bonus (Sarah Palin: Twit-er) Quote of the Day

"Copenhgen=arrogance of man2think we can change nature's ways.MUST b good stewards of God's earth,but arrogant&naive2say man overpwers nature

Earth saw clmate chnge4 ions;will cont 2 c chnges.R duty2responsbly devlop resorces4humankind/not pollute&destroy;but cant alter naturl chng"

-- Sarah Palin on the Copenhagen climate conference, via Twitter

I think it's safe to say that Twitter represents the perfect medium for Palin. Each tweet is a like a little snapshot of the whirling, incoherent mess that cyclones around inside her pea-brain 24/7.

Also, she misspelled "eons" -- and not by design.

Quote of the Day

"An unlucky in love everyman and his attempt to satisfy his insatiable beastiality by mounting the mare of his dreams atop the Empire State building. Tom Hanks and Shebiscuit Jessica Parker in: Sleepless In Seattle Slew."

-- Pajiba commenter "John Denver's Wingman" parodying the "high-concept" pitch formula that likely crapped forth Did You Hear About the Morgans?

And now, just for the hell of it because it's a holiday week and I'm all about cheap and easy content, here are my two most popular (read: patently offensive) takes on the entire romantic comedy genre.

From "Bride and Prejudice" (Originally Published, 4.30.08)

There's no point debating why it is that "chick flicks" generally fall into one of two categories -- they're melodramatic, celluloid psychotherapy aimed at dredging up dormant mother/daughter issues, or Prince Charming fantasies designed to fuck women into an orgasmic frenzy with the gargantuan penis of unrealistic expectations. Either way, the endgame is generally the same for the men and smart women forced to suffer someone who's adopted the belief system of these movies as gospel: indulge her when possible, pity her behind her back and hope that a new and better girlfriend/friend comes along at some point to replace her and her neuroses forever (thereby confirming her latent suspicions that she's "not good enough"). If you're a man, you don't want to be anywhere near someone who plans to drop ten bucks on Made of Honor. In fact, a love of Patrick Dempsey and the desire to see this movie might function as a sort of litmus test to weed out the women you should run screaming from -- the ones whose hopes and dreams involve crap you'll never care about. As for the XX-chromo opposites of the rom-com crowd -- the sharp, funny, worldly women who represent the brass ring within the American gene pool -- you'll probably need to avoid the Dempsey fans as well, since I can't see a smart girl wanting to listen to a man-crazy basket case whining to her on the phone at 3am because her one-night-stand hasn't called back or her boyfriend won't ask her to marry him.

From "The Princess Diarrhea" (Originally Published, 2.6.09)

Needless to say, I caught a lot of crap for (the above) opinion -- and now I'm willing to admit that I was, in fact, wrong.

There's actually a third formula that I completely overlooked -- one that's really nothing more than an offshoot of the Prince Charming fantasy but has become a cynical cash cow in its own right.

Let's call it the Designer Princess premise.

Movies like The Devil Wears Prada, Sex and the City and now, of course, Confessions of a Shopaholic, fit into this category. They're stories that suggest to women that independence is something that can be bought and worn like a kind of couture merit badge; that Prada is pride; that superficiality is success. Whereas the Prince Charming fantasy will undermine the relationship (to say nothing of the sanity) of any guy unlucky enough to be involved with a woman who subscribes to it by creating an unachievable emotional standard, the Designer Princess narrative will make the man go both crazy and broke trying to satisfy the materialistic lifestyle which the woman buying into it has come to believe she's entitled to. What's more, can the label-crazed heroines of these movies (and the novels from which they're adapted) really be idolized and emulated considering the state of the economy? I mean, can you honestly enjoy the fashion-tastic antics of Carrie Bradshaw -- even as escapism -- when your home's about to be foreclosed on and your neighbor's eating Alpo for dinner? Who the hell wants to watch a bunch of self-pampering wanna-be socialites get exactly what they want right now?

The answer: nobody you want to know.

Listening Post: Bonus "Girl, Interrupted" Edition

Who knows what killed Brittany Murphy (I hate to admit it but my first reaction was the time-tested "Cocaine is a Hell of a Drug" theory) but now that she's gone at, really, far too young an age, it's worth pointing out one of the best little diversions of her career. I'm talking about the song she recorded for Paul Oakenfold's 2006 album A Lively Mind -- a damn sexy dance track called Faster Kill Pussycat that featured her appropriately purring vocals over Oakenfold's trademark turntable and programming wizardry.

Brittany Murphy was a talented actress. And you know something? She was a pretty cool singer too.

Man, 2009 -- the Year of Death. It's like the whole decade was so fucking awful that somebody had to make sure a bunch of well-known people wouldn't even get out of it alive.