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Archive for February, 2009

This video is fun and the song is great.  Yes, the song has been around for a while now, but in my defense, it is probably my very favorite song of last year.  So here in all its super-eight looking glory is the video for “Take Off Your Sunglasses” by Ezra Furman and the Harpoons.  A couple thoughts; one, how perfect are the Wayfarers?  If it were any other kind of shades it just wouldn’t be right.  Second, I am convinced that the band sounds like a messier version of the Violent Femmes with a dash of Pixies thrown in.  High praise, I know.  A buddy of mine strongly disagrees about them sounding like the Femmes, but he also is pretty musically clueless.  Take it for what you will.  I personally declare myself the victor.

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I know, I know, a second NBA post in almost as many days is a little much, but this was just too cool for me not to notice.  If you follow this little link over to ESPN.com you will see that after welcoming the Bulls to the White House the previous day, President Obama showed up courtside for the Wizards/Bulls game in DC.  The President is a big-time Chicago Bulls fan, due in no small part to all his years in Chicago (though I am sure that a guy who wore the number 23 didn’t hurt either), and was pulling for his squad the whole time.  And while they got blown-out, at least he can take solace in the fact that it was his adopted home-town squad that beat them.

Seriously though, how awesome is this.  Not only does our President eminate a sense of hope, intellegence, and confidence, but he is one of the cooler cats around as well.  I mean, check out the black shirt and leather jacket, not since Kennedy has a President captured the attention high culture in this way.  Sometimes I really have to pinch myself in order to convince my mind that he really got elected.

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troubadour

One of the most enjoyable and slightly frustrating things about K’naan is how difficult it is to categorize his brand of music.  Over the course of his second studio record he slips in and out of various genres, as though he’s trying them on for size.  Sometimes it sounds like straight hip hop, sometimes sounding like smooth R&B pop, other times you can hear him channeling Bob Marley.  K’naan doesn’t seem interested in fitting into any one musical scene, instead he chooses to sample just about all of them for a moment or two.

Perhaps what keeps an album like Troubadour afloat, and it’s really all over the map, is that K’naan seems a naturally born story-teller.  This largely is aided by the fact that his pretty amazing life story is one that lends him air of authenticity that is often missing from similar genre-jumping artists’ work (I’m looking at you Wyclef Jean).  This story started in civil war torn Mogadishu, Somalia where K’naan was born and spent most of his childhood before his family migrated to Harlem.  It should come as no surprise that it’s this early life in Somalia that K’naan often brings the listener back to.  What is surprising, however, is how he continues to manage to do so with a lens that is not only horrified and critical, but simultaneously nostalgic and tender about the world from which he came.  On the track “Somalia” K’naan raps; “This is where the streets have no name, and the drain of sewage / You can see it in this boy how the hate is brewin’, cause when his stomach tucks in, fuck the pain is fluid”.   Yet, he strikes a different tone on the track “Wavin’ Flag”, when he sings “but it’s my home, all I have known, where I got grown, streets we would roam” he strikes on a feeling that could almost be described as sentimentality.  It all must be a very accurate representation of the complicated feelings and insights that K’naan must have regarding the winding road that is behind him.  Another example of this is “Fatima”, which borders on sappy, but somehow manages to be both one of the most heartbreaking and at the same time uplifting tracks of the bunch.  This complication is similar to the artist itself, confusing and sometimes frustrating, but at the same time immensely engaging and intriguing.

This album is a much larger production than his debut album The Dusty Foot Philosopher, and as such it packs poppier sounds, bigger beats, and bigger guest names.  This at times seems to gel very well with K’naan’s more bare-bones storyteller aesthetics and at other times the two seem to be at odds, clashing with one-another.  Nowhere is this more evident than the track “If Rap Gets Jealous”, this is a re-imagined release of a song from his debut, this time with some help from Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett.  The sound is big and booming, it sounds like a song that was imagined to be a single as K’naan belts out the chorus, the high-profile guest gutiarist a flashy addition to a fun song.  Yet the lyrics betray some more simplistic roots as K’naan boasts “so instead of getting a beat from Kanyeezy, who would probably take half my budget / I can save the back-end and send it back to Mogadishu, with my family and friends getting patched up again” for it seems to clash with the  big production sound.  The final product is enjoyable and catchy, but a little mixed up and at odds with itself, something that is, again, very similar to the artist himself.  Noticing a recurring theme yet?

An example of where the collaborations really seem to work is on the track “I Come Prepared” which features fellow reggae rapper Damien Marley.  What makes this track so fun is the smaller beat and the fact that K’naan and Damien really seem to be channeling one anothers flow much more than they’re trying to tap into Damien’s father.  It really pays off as they hand the flow back off to one another and really dwell in the verses.  It’s a track that will certainly having you nod your head along with the beat.  The product again becomes a little more mixed on the Adam Levine boasting track “Bang Bang” which is much more of a conventional poppy brand of hip hop.  This is not to say that it’s a bad track, as sometimes the track really is able to capture an almost Bad-era Michael Jackson feel, especially when Levine is belting out the chorus, but it doesn’t blend together as well, part love-song, part R&B club jam, part hip hop.  One cannot say, though, that it doesn’t fit the out scatter-brained pattern of the album as a whole.

Much of the charm of K’naan and Troubadour are when he allows us to dwell in his quirkiness as an artist.  This is on display in “15 Minutes Away” where K’naan riffs on the wonderful anticipation of an impending money transfer (to which some of us can relate to more than others).  It also can be found on “America” where K’naan throws a Somali hook and verse over nice guest-spots by Mos Def and Chali 2na.  When you hear tracks like this you are reminded that you are listening to a unique and unconventional talent, the likes of which does not come along everyday.  While not the most single-ready songs on the album, this might be where K’naan is at his most comfortable, and the songs stand-out as a result.

In the end, while a bit uneven, this is an overall extremely enjoyable album.  K’naan comes off as much more of a raw talent than the other immigrant hip hop stars like Akon and Wyclef Jean, but with that rawness comes a real feeling of sincerity that is very endearing.  And while it is perhaps not quite the standout that debut album The Dusty Foot Philosopher was, Troubadour definitely shows some growth as an artist.  It’s unique, it’s fun, it’s heartbreaking, it’s uplifting, it’s probably the best hip hop release of the new year.  Well, that is if you call it hip hop, at least.

SCORE: 3.8 out of 5.0

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nba-cash

According to this article on ESPN.com the NBA is set to borrow $175 million dollars with intent of distributing it to franchise which are currently struggling in the recession.  This is pretty crazy, but not entirely surprising.  Teams have been trying to cut costs left and right with even big market teams like the Los Angeles Lakers essentially dumping players to save money on their salaries and the luxury tax.  Still, though, this is a pretty drastic step that the league is taking.

The details of the article indicate that basketball bailout is coming from a series of non-banking lenders was put together by JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America (who have a myriad of problems themselves).  It will allow for up to 11.6 million dollars to be distributed to 15 teams that indicated that they were struggling in a league-wide survey.  Worrying, though, is the fact that there won’t be much oversight or regulation in terms of how team owners use the money.  Since this isn’t coming from the American taxpayer or anything this doesn’t worry me in the same way the actual bailouts do, but it does worry me as a fan of professional basketball.  If this is the dire situation of the league this early into the recession, just imagine what things will look like in another year.  Especially if the wealthy corporate owners do what they usually do and squander the millions are given due to a lack of league oversight.  I am not sure that is a league that can survive?  Will we see fans not attending games after slashed ticket prices?  More and more players following Josh Childress and heading overseas for foreign teams which will give them larger paychecks than they can get here?  A number of small market teams going under because they are unable to sustain?

Perhaps the most bleak future doesn’t even lay with the NBA.  Other sports may very well end up suffering just as much if not worse.  Professional baseball is leaking credibility like a strainer these days, with even A-Rod getting dragged into the mud by steroid use.  With the economy tanking like it is and people out of work I can’t imagine that the MLB will be seeing crowds on par with what they did last year.  Sure big market teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox will still pull in alot of people, but what about more working class teams like those in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Milwaukee, these squads have trouble pulling crowds sometimes in the best of circumstances.  I wonder how long it will be before baseball is in need of some kind booster shot.  And what if it isn’t enough?   Hell, think about boxing, a sport that many accuse of being on its last legs as it is.   Ticket prices have always been high, as have pay-per-view costs, but this year has already seen venues struggling to fill with crowds and events under-performing on pay-per-view.  Let’s just say that Oscar De La Hoya chose a really bad time to finally get old.  The future of professional sports in America is a potentially frightening one indeed.

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By now you probably have heard that Bobby Jindal IS Kenneth the Page.  And it’s actually true.  They sound frighteningly alike, or at least they did last night.  Don’t believe me?  Look for yourself, first is Huffington Post where they have videos of both up.  Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic has also gotten on board.  There is a Facebook group dedicated to the subject of Jindal’s Kenneth’ness.  Gawker has picked up on the internet phenomenon as well.

I said yesterday that I thought Jindal came off like a used car salesman in his GOP response, but oddly enough when I was watching it live, one of the first thing that popped into my head was “who does this guy sound like”– Kenneth from the 30 Rock was exactly the answer.  I wager that we’ll see these two together on either 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live sooner or later.  The best thing that Jindal can do at this stage is just embrace it.  I mean, a battle cry did Howard Dean in.  He should probably try and get out in front of this thing.  Democrats everywhere are smiling, as is Sarah Palin.

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“This is America, we don’t do what’s easy, we do what’s necessary.”

This was largely about as dark as President Obama got in his address to Congress.  And the address was markedly different from his nationally televised press conference.  At least it was different tonally.  The address to congress was not so bogged down by the doom and gloom of the recession, this was much more of a pep-rally for the American people.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As the quote above suggests, it seems that the President’s goal was to uplift and motivate the American people, not so much to sway members of Congress.  While it wasn’t the loud cry for bipartisanship that some were expecting, it was what one might be inclined to call vintage Obama, full of hope.   And after the reaction of the stock market to Bernanke’s speech today suggests, a little hope may be able to go a long way.

One of the important things that President Obama tried to do was to ease American’s concerns regarding the money that is being thrown at banks.  He very heavily tried to underline the importance of loosening credit and loans, and did so in terms of everyday needs for middle class families.  Once again this was the President in “teacher-mode” as he pointed to the need to get loans on cars, houses, and small businesses.  The President said that if we “don’t restart lending in this country, our recovery will be choked-off before it even begins.”  He also tried to assure the American tax-payer that while this meant giving bailout money to banks, it did not mean that it would happen without regulation or supervision.   While this section of the address could get lost in the wave of the speech, it was hugely imperative that he tackled this issue in terms of the battle for public opinion.  His almost folksy way of going about doing that is something that I suspect will really resonate with American viewers.

There were three other issues that Obama really worked hard to hammer home, those issues were energy, health-care, and education.  Allow me first to say, wow.  It was incredibly refreshing to see the President stand in front of the country and discuss something other than the danger of vaguely defined Islamic bogeymen.  I almost forgot what it sounded like.  That aside, for me the issue of energy is the one that really hits home.  Clean and efficient energy is the great challenge of my generation.  The President acknowledged as much when he said that the country that harnesses clean and efficient energy will be the country that will lead the way in the 21’st century.  Yet he expressed his dismay over the fact that America is lagging behind China, Germany, and Japan in the race for energy independence.  The President said he does “not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.”  Truly a rousing battle cry.

On the issue of health care is where the President seemed to call loudest for the bipartisanship that he hoped to bring to Washington.  He said that there are “different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.”  Ironically enough, though, I would suspect that is where President Obama will find some of the most bitter opposition from Republicans.  So much for bipartisanship.

The President didn’t spend much time talking about the closing of Guantanemo, the recently discussed plans for withdraweral from Iraq, or the future of relations or military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And when he did it was in the typical “we support our troops, torture is wrong, Iraq is a quagmire” kind of way.  And this is probably my largest disappointment with the address.  However, the economy is the pressing issue at hand and this was supposed to largely be an address about hope (thanks for the advice Bill Clinton)!  So my assumption is that there will be a time and a place for everything.

Some random thoughts that occurred to me while I watched the address;

I couldn’t help but be amazed at the sight of Barack gently kissing Hillary on the cheek and the image of her standing and applauding him, a broad smile on her face.  I think about the bitterness of the primary and moments like the debates in South Carolina and am pleased at how far the Democratic party came in healing those wounds.  Even Joe Lieberman looked comfortable.  The entire long entrance of the President was reminiscent of that of a prize-fighter coming to the ring, only with twice as much fanfare if you can believe it.

Because I like to get myself angry I was looking at the Fox News panelists’ liveblog while I was watching the address.  For the most part Fox seems content to represent Republicans as a catty and out of touch party that seems more interested in being snarky than they are in healing this country.  And that’s a shame because it simply isn’t the case.  Some of the low-lights from the live blog were when they went off on tangents about Nancy Pelosi’s attire, extended diatribes about the President mistakenly claiming that an American invented the automobile (it was actually a German), and the ever persistent whining about how the closing of Gitmo is the equivalent of releasing terrorists into the gernal population, weapons in hand.  Wow, such relevant and biting political commentary, way to be as classy and mature as ever Fox News!

Finally I just wanted to give a few quick thoughts on the Bobby Jindal GOP reaction speech.  There was good and bad.  Jindal (who came off a bit like a used car salesman in my eyes) talked a little bit about bi-partisanship, but also about the need for critical voices, and for those in power to listen to those who may have better ideas.  And in this he was right.  Unfortunately for him, though, the ideas that he preached were the same stale ones that Republicans have used as talking points ever since the recession began (and in some instances even longer than that).  I was also appalled at him raising the specter of Katrina in some bizarre and misguided effort to undermine the Presidents stimulus efforts.  Jindal should remember better than most which party’s watch Katrina went down on, and for him to mention it for political talking points is both disgusting and petty.

Some links for you to enjoy are the NY Times summary of the speech, the CNN summary of the speech, and a full transcript of the speech over at the Huffington Post.

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If you take a depressing little gander at this article over on the NY Times website (don’t worry, they’re the NY publication that isn’t racist) you’ll see that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is saying that the economy is still going to get worse before it gets better.  Bernanke claims that the Fed is doing everything they can to unlock credit, and seems to be pretty content with the other actions taken by the government, but says that it will likely be 2010 before we see things start to get better.  Or, more clearly, that “the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery.”

I can’t say as though I am shocked to hear this hypothesis, I mean, I’m optimistic about the future but not entirely naive.  Consumer confidence is certainly low, people are still getting laid off.  So, clearly we have some more headaches in store.  But damn, is it ever depressing to hear.  We still have   of 2009 left, and a lot of problems outside our door that could use focus, but it’s going to be tough to concentrate on while we’re struggling so mightily economically.

I guess my hope is just that the President is going to be as good a salesman for the other issues that face his presidency as he was for the stimulus, because both we the people and the American people are going to require some selling.   I guess we’ll find out about that tonight.

UPDATE: And with the mere idea that there is sunlight on the horizon the market went up today.  Go figure.

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