Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hockey Nirvana

Two posts in one day. I've been slack lately, so this is a change of pace - literally.

With two hours and counting 'til game one of the Stanley Cup Final I just couldn't let the moment go un-commented upon.

I am SO excited. I think most hockey fans are. When was the last time there was a match-up so promising in the final? The closest we've come most recently is Colorado v/ New Jersey in 2001. The drama of Mission 16W. That was a pretty great series. Seven games. The last one, if I recall was pretty one sided - more so than the 3-1 decision implies. But this series is still all promise. It could still be the greatest hockey series ever played. It really could. It is absolutley in the realm of possibility.

I've been looking forward to today since about half way through the second round, when it started looking realistic that the Wings and the Penguins could be facing off against each other for the cup.

I think they genuinely are the two best teams in the league - sorry Montreal fans. Wait a second, why am I sorry? I hate the Canadiens.

Detroit has been my second favourite team for about as long as I've been a hockey fan. It's been a good decade and a half to be Detroit fan. I expect them to win, but I don't expect it to be easy. I also expect that this will be the end of the glory years in Detroit - times are too hard there in the auto industry and that can only hurt the club. They may go back to being the Dead Wings of 25 years ago and further - the pre-Yzerman era. But for now... four cups in 12 years, they've made it to the conference finals or further as many additional times since '95, they've been 1st in thier division every season but three since '94 (and they won the Cup in two of those three years.), Since it's inception in 1986 only one team has won the President's Trophy more than twice - Detriot - SIX times. They are the closest thing to a dynasty left in hockey in the new millenium.

But the boys in Pittsburgh aren't going to be a pushover. Crosby and Malkin are undisputed superstars in waiting. I think we can expect that this Cup will be to Pittsburgh what the 82-83 thumping the Islanders gave the Oilers. They handed them their ass, but showed them what it took to be a great team, passing the torch in the process. I don't expect the Pens to get swept, but I doubt they can out perform the combination of winning experience and skill that has been steeping in Hockeytown for over a decade.

Okay... now there are only 90 minutes left.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Defending the Music XXII: Also Rans & the Bullpen

I thought I was done, but there's been some lingering thoughts that I felt needed addressing. There are a number of groups which have never made the cut for various reasons. Some, though coming very close, just haven't quite had the personal appeal for me; others haven't been consistent enough to earn my faith to the degree that I am willing to accept their lesser works as wholeheartedly as their best works; and still others have fallen short by right of never developing a large enough body of work. Additionally, it occurred to me that there are a few artists that are hovering on the edge of me embracing them as completely as I do Pearl Jam or the Hip or any of the other acts on my list of true believers. As that's the most victorious category, I'll save it for last.

It's a pretty substantial list, so I won't spend much time commenting on individual acts, but rest assured they all came very close to being on my list of the real cream of the crop.

First up, the inconsistent artists. These are the folks who at some point in their career blew my mind with at least one full album, but throughout the rest of their career - which may or may not be on going - have been too hit or miss for me to get behind them universally.

The Alarm - I was (happily) tricked into seeing The Alarm on their practice gig at the long since defunct 86 Street Music Hall for their last full tour. Two of their last three albums are amazing, and they had some great stuff that presaged those moments in their earlier career. The real spectacular thing they did was break up on stage in 1991 - what I wouldn't have done to see that!
Alice in Chains - Dirt. Damn what a great disc. Jar of Flies was no slouch either... but they just didn't have the jam to keep up the pace.
Barenaked Ladies - Gordon, Stunt and the infamous Yellow Tape. Beyond that I've always found them to be pretty hit and miss. They did do a wicked concert though.
Beck - I totally expected Beck to be a one hit wonder. Mellow Gold was a remarkable and unique album in it's day. Odelay and Guero are also wicked albums that pretty much work top to bottom. I also don't think he's done a disc that hasn't had a great track or two on it... but they also all have a solid sampling of boring twaddle. Too bad.
BoDeans - I saw the BoDeans open for U2 in 1987. They were great! So were their first two albums. But beyond that they rarely made much music of value... arguably the theme to Party of Five: Closer to Free, is an exception.
Cracker - Kerosene Hat is one of the most awesome albums ever. Period. Nothing else the former Camper Van Beethoven frontman, David Lowery fronted project has done since - and arguably before - has done much for me at all.
Collective Soul - I'm actually surpised that these guys are still making music together. I thought they faded away after their fourth album - by which point I had quit finding them interesting... actually I pretty much only found them exceptionally interesting for their second (self-titled) album.
Counting Crows - A band that lost steam fast. August and Everything After was amazing. Everything after, wasn't.
Crash Test Dummies - The law of diminishing returns returns... Such a brilliant start. Some decent sophmore stuff and with a few bright moments to follow it was pretty much over. I actually met Brad Roberts at a party just as they went meteoric. I think he hadn't realized he was on the verge of stardom.
The Cult - Love and Sonic Temple were amazing albums. Electric was fun if flawed. In concert they were crap. Stumblingly drunk. Embarassing.
Frank Black - He's already on the list of honour for The Pixies, so falling short for the solo career is hardly a (pardon) black mark. I'm lumping all post Pixies Frank Black together. His first solo effort is awesome, as is Frank Black and the Catholics' Pistolero... but he's managed to put most of the rest of his career together with filler. So disappointing.
Great Big Sea - Though nowhere near the artistic attrition of the Crash Test Dummies, Great Big Sea's studio albums are each a little less than the one before. Too bad. Up and Play were both pretty wicked.
INXS - Kick and X - with a few scattered bright lights from their earliest days through to the death of Michael Hutchence. INXS V. 2.0 with J.D. fortune... god help us.
Nine Inch Nails - A brilliant and industry changing first album. I listened to Pretty Hate Machine in full for the first time in years last weekend. It was amazing. Broken is also a pretty great disc... but it all starts to sound the same after that. Almost ironic seeing as Trent Reznor was so original in the first place.
Pogues - If I should Fall From Grace With God is a spectacular work of celtic punk fusion. Fairytale of New York would probably get my vote for the best duet ever... which perhaps explains some of my worst relationships. Peace and Love isn't far behind, but outside of that the Pogues are pretty hit and miss.
Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want... was at one time one of the most listened to albums of my life. She has her moments before and after, but she's also pretty tiresome at times too.
Smashing Pumpkins - Billy Corgan. Brilliant and bat shit crazy. The brilliance didn't have enough legs on it to consistently lift their music to the level that made Siamese Dream the breakout that it was. Not even the solid, but flawed Mellon Collie...
Stone Temple Pilots - I always loved how STP experimented with their sound and knew no bounds with where they could go sonically... but it didn't always equal brilliance.
White Stripes - I'm breaking the rules here. There are several dozen White Stripes songs that together would make two or three amazing albums... unfortunately there isn't one single album full of them.

Next up, there are a number of artists, who are seen by many as being among the all-time greats - or on their way - who I do really like, but I don't embrace at the level that their own true believers do, despite recognizing and respecting their genius. I should mention, dividing artists accurately between this category and the first, was not always easy or clear.

Alanis Morissette - I was as surprised as anyone by her reappearance on the scene, and Jagged Little Pill was a spectacular album. She's had some other great moments too, but not enough for me. Oh, and... note to self - do NOT date this woman - have you heard how she savages her exes on her albums?
Beastie Boys - There are those for whom the art-rap of the Beastie Boys is the pinnacle of the white man's accomplishment in urban music. Actually, now that I've written that, I believe that that is the case for me too... I just don't think that that is enough to act as though the sun rises and sets on Mike D, MCA, Ad-Rock & Mix Master Mike.
Billy Bragg - At his best Billy Bragg is amazing. I've just never found that his best is totally in step with what I want to hear. Close... so very close.
Bright Eyes - Connor Oberst is pretty damned interesting, and I can see why he is looked upon as the vanguard of lo-fi. No doubt one day he will be a legend... just not in my mind.
The Cure - There is no single album by the Cure that blew me away... except for their singles album Standing on the Beach. But Robert Smith managed to pack every album with a handful of wicked ditties... and too much tiresome woe to really win me over in full.
David Bowie - If I take it on the chin for any one artist, I expect it to be this one. I do in fact really love a LOT of David Bowie. No artist on this list comes closer to making my true believers list than David Bowie. One of my favourite concerts of all time was the Sound and Vision tour. But when I consider putting him in the autoplaylist I keep getting stopped up by thoughts like 'ugh - that would mean having to listen to Glass Spider.'
Metallica - Another of those 'most influential bands of all time' that didn't specifically inspire me until well after their impact was long since apparent. I'm still not so hot on anything before And Justice for All....
Nick Cave - How can you not love Murder Ballads? I'm also a big Grinderman fan. And there aren't many musicians I'd rather sit down and chat over a pint with... but I've never completely bought into the music. Sorry Chief.
Public Enemy - I should almost put the mighty P.E. in the next category. They were truly tremendous, and perhaps only a white man could fail to recognize their complete genius. And I DO think Chuck D is a genius - to this day. But Flavor Flav gets more egregious with each subsequent reality show. Apocalypse `91 is one of my favourite albums of all time. Fight the Power is obviously one of the most influential individual songs ever recorded. There's more P.E. of value - but for me it's scattered, and the further you get from the ...Black Planet the scarcer it becomes.
Spirit of the West - I don't think there is a band that was loved by more people I went to university with than Spirit of the West. I was even mistaken as John Mann once, even though I look nothing like him (long story for another time). And the best of Spirit of the West has become among my favourite music, just out of osmosis from those days... but I just don't LOVE them the way my peers did.
Radiohead - A secret confession: Radiohead shouldn't really be on this list. I just don't like them that much. But at least they are current, they are seen by many as geniuses and I do own some of their music and like it. For this they earn a place - unlike Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Stones and the Beatles; all of whom I expect to be the artists that are most conspicuous by their absence. All of whom I am at least a little actively contemptuous of.
Rage Against the Machine - I was rather late to RATM. I was familiar with bits and bites of their music until their last album, Renegades, came out. Renegades didn't have a single song written by RATM on it. All covers. Brilliant noise. Going back through their catalogue I found a lot to like, but they never managed to totally enthrall me, top to bottom. to RATM.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Mother's Milk was responsible for me putting a LOT of faith in the Chili Peppers. I went back in their catalogue looking for the same brilliance and never found it. I bought their next three albums looking for the same and only ever found it in bits and pieces. Shame.
They Might be Giants - I've got so much respect for the Johns. They have done so well for themselves by simply doing their own thing and not caring what the world thinks. But that same quirk means there`s an awful lot of weak spots in their catalogue for those of us who aren't totally devoted to them.

Then there are the artists whose career was simply too short - which in many cases is undoubtedly the proof of the scope fo their talent. But in each of these cases there was one to three albums that kicked ass. In many cases some of my favourite albums of all time. But it would be totally cheap to declare that I love everything they ever did, when they only ever relased an album or three.

Andrew Cash - One kick ass rootsy album. Especially the first half of it. Never saw him again.
Cutting Crew - I think I lost my virginity to The Broadcast. Their second album, The Scattering wasn't quite as good, but I think their ambient pop was ahead of it's time.
Faith No More - I don't count the pre-Mike Patton albums. But when he was their front man, they were the best funk metal band on the planet. Again - ahead of their time.
Guns & Roses - Technically G&R have more than three albums, but only three really count. Appetite for Destruction - one of the greatest albums ever. Lies - which was packaged with their earlier Live Like a Suicide disc (which I don't count.) Use Your Illusion - which while sold as two albums... came out the same day with the same artwork (in different colours) - it's the SAME album. Spaghetti Incident was all covers thus doesn't count. And if Chinese Democracy ever gets released... well I'll cross that bridge then, if one can even consider it a G&R disc.
Hothouse Flowers - Three really gorgeous albums. Rich and lustrous. I had tickets to see them - but they cancelled the concert the day before... and they never toured or recorded together again.
Jane's Addiction - Nothing's Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual are collectively responsible for expanding my mind with regards to what music could be more than any other band's discs ever. Their reunion... not so much - though it was good to get a chance to see them play.
Mollies Revenge - You've never heard of them. The best album by a Vancouver band ever. Also a great show.
The Monks - Bad Habits was more responsible for my interest in punk music - yes, even more so than The Clash. I've never managed to get my hands on a copy of Suspended Animation, their second album. VERY hard to find.
Power Station - The sound of this album was so thick. Their second album turned into a Rod Stewart album - it was all downhill from there. Andy Taylor almost makes the list with his only solo album - equally fat sounding.
Robbie Robertson - A stretch. I know. Obviously The Band provided Robbie Robertson with a career before his career. His first self-titled solo album is a clinic in epic sounding rock. One of the best albums ever produced. His second, Storyville, is also pretty awesome. After that - his two Native American releases (the newest of which is a decade old) - are really albums with other people, though not quite bands in themselves... and not quite as good.
Rock & Hyde - I would have liked to be able to justify the Payolas on this list somewhere, but I can't. This is as close as it gets. One album - ten better tracks than any Payolas album anyhow.
The Silencers - Another stretch. The only Silencers' album I've ever been able to get my hands on, Blues for Buddha, is twenty years old. They released their tenth album this year. I suppose I could try harder to get those other nine albums - there has been some real effort, but in a way I don't want to ruin the magic of that one disc of divine aural pleasure.
Stone Roses - Their first album was the best music for smoking dope to of the 1990s. And then it all went to hell due to legal entreching of corporate music interests. Second Coming - their late arriving sophmore was a pale shadow, but had it's moments. It was probably best that they broke up thereafter.

Last and far far far from least are a number of acts who I see the potential of that could concieveably make my list of True Believers some day.

Gavin DeGraw - They had better play "I Don't Want to Be" at my funeral.

Gomez - Gomez have been growing on me for years. The scope of thier sound is vast. Their latest, How We Operate, pretty much seals the deal. If their sixth album is as good as their previous ones, I'm going to have no choice but to add them to the list. Just thinking about them now menas that Girlshapedlovedrug will be stuck pleasantly in my head all day.

Kings of Leon - Just keep your eyes on these guys. They're awesome. My only fear is that after four albums they might start sounding like more and more of the same.

Les Dales Hawerchuk - Perhaps a wee bit pre-mature, but I really love these guys. I only barely grok French, which is a bit of a challenge, but this is the hungriest rock around. Love 'em.

Modest Mouse - I actually just saw Modest Mouse in concert (opening for R.E.M.) last night. I gotta say they're far more interesting when constrained by the studio. And I'm not sure that Isaac Brock's voice can continue to be interesting after another album - but they only release a full album every three years. And the addition of Johnny Marr... inspired.

Okay. That's it. This series is over. I'm going to find some thing else to yak about for a while. If/when I come back to music I'll tackle it from another angle.