Monthly Archives: March 2012

Revisiting The 2000s: 20 Albums (Intro)



Part I: The Lost Decade

There’s a common perception that the 2000s (Naughts, Nothings, whatever you might call the first decade of our new millennium) has been, shall we say, a troubled period for popular music. It certainly hasn’t seen anything along the lines of the birth of Rock in the 50s, its flowering in the 60s, the Punk explosion of the 70s or the Alternative Rock boom of the 90s. And this is not just about Rock. Hip Hop, Dance Music, Country, you name it, nobody was exactly having a golden age during 2000-2009. Instead, it’s been more like a treading of water and triumph of pre-packaged bland slickness in pop music, reminiscent in some ways of the 80s. I had hoped that this might be a waiting period for the next big thing, but I’m starting to feel some despair on that front.
Personally, I was, in various ways, out of commission myself for large parts of the decade. A little marriage breakup here, intense workaholism there, plus a major dash of bottoming out and getting in to recovery will do that to you. You miss some life that way, certainly. But, even more disturbing, you miss some culture. Now, it’s not as if I paid no attention to new music in 2000-2009. As you can see elsewhere in this blog, I had my musings about the decade, and best albums of the year lists here and there. But, given my outages, I have been haunted by an ongoing fear that there might be significant gaps in my musical experience of the decade.
More than that, I’ve been curious about what I might have missed. Even in the worst periods, there are diamonds among the dung. I wondered what might be waiting for me, undiscovered…
Part II: Project Overview
To discover what I might have missed, I first had to determine what others were saying the best albums of the decade had been. In pursuit of this, I looked to a few sources:
I was looking for albums that garnered multiple entries, since that seemed the best way to cancel out the biases of individual lists (Pitchfork is tilted toward indie-rock, NME likes Brits more, Rolling Stone is the stodgy conservative of the music journalism scene, etc.). 
Combining 260 total listings from these nine sources ended up netting me 150 albums. Of this 150, only 43 made it on to two or more lists. That was actually kind of refreshing, since the rap on these kinds of lists is that “everybody picks the same things”. In fact, over 100 albums only appeared once, meaning that each source’s tastes do have some individuality to them after all. Even better, out of 150 albums total, only 27 appeared in three or more sources.
Part III: The List
I figured this 27 was the crème de la crème, where I might find the great albums that I had missed (the numbers represent the number of times an album appeared in the nine sources):
Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot       8
Arcade Fire, Funeral      7
The Strokes, Is This It    7
Jay-Z, The Blueprint       6
LCD Soundystem, Sound of Silver          6
Outkast, Stankonia        6
Radiohead, Kid A          6
Beck, Sea Change         5
Kanye West, The College Dropout           5
The White Stripes, Elephant       5
The White Stripes, White Blood Cells      5
Daft Punk, Discovery     4
Green Day, American Idiot         4
Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights           4
Kayne West, Late Registration    4
MIA, Kala          4
Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavillion     3
Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head   3
D’Angelo, Voodoo         3
Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP    3
Madvillian, Madvilliany   3
MIA, Arular        3
Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix     3
Spoon, Kill the Moonlight           3
Sufjan Stevens, Illinois  3
The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots         3
TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain        3  
     
As you can see, I have some of these highlighted. The ones in yellow I already love, so I don’t need to “discover” them. The ones in gray, well… I’ve tried to like Radiohead. As documented elsewhere, I’ve failed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’re bad, I don’t think people who like them are stupid or evil. They’re just not my cup of tea. Ditto with Coldplay. And even more so, but with less respect for the underlying musical product, with the Strokes.
Weeding out albums I knew, or knew would be non-starters, by very happy coincidence, left 20 not totally familiar to me (as in, I’d never given them a proper listen from start to finish) albums from the 2000s for me to review (presented here in alphabetical order by artist):
Animal Collective, “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (3)
Arcade Fire, “Funeral” (7)
Beck, “Sea Change” (5)
Daft Punk, “Discovery” (4)
D’Angelo, “Voodoo” (3)
Eminem, “Marshall Mathers LP” (3)
Interpol, “Turn on the Bright Lights” (4)
Jay-Z, “The Blueprint” (6)
Kayne West, “Late Registration” (4)
LCD Soundystem, “Sound of Silver” (6)
Madvillian, “Madvilliany” (3)
MIA, “Arular” (3)
MIA, “Kala” (4)
Outkast, “Stankonia” (6)
Phoenix, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” (3)
Spoon, “Kill the Moonlight” (3)
Sufjan Stevens, “Illinois” (3)
The Flaming Lips, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (3)
TV on the Radio, “Return to Cookie Mountain” (3)
Wilco, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (8)
Stay tuned for the next installment, in which our reviews will commence…
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Book Review: Born In The Year Of The Butterfly Knife, Codependent No More, Julius Caesar

I’ve finished three books within the past week, which puts me at 10/52 of my self-challenge on Goodreads to read 52 books this year. That’s one a week, I hear! Their pace-counter informs me that I’m one book behind, but I feel pretty encouraged myself! And now, on to reviews…

Born In The Year Of The Butterfly Knife  (Derrick Brown, Write Bloody Publishing, 2004, 203 pp.)
A few years ago, I saw “The Drums Inside Your Chest” a concert film of performances by independent poets. I was initially drawn to the film (besides the inherent attraction of poetry to me) because it was produced by and featured Amber Tamblyn. She talks to God, after all. But the poet in the film I ended up being most impressed by was Derrick Brown, and I went out afterwards to find this volume collecting his poems from 1993-2004. While I’m a fan of Slam poetry and performance poetry in general, I’ve found before that many poets who are compelling on stage don’t read nearly as well in print. Brown, though, has such a visceral quality in his words, and such sharp images, that he escapes this trap. Check out his poem “Kick in the Chest” some time, for example. It pretty much says everything about what I think writing should do. If you like things that burn with truth and are unafraid to look ugly in the process, Brown’s poetry might be for you.    

Codependent No More (Melody Beattie, Harper/Hazelden, 1987, 229 pp.)
Speaking of things that burn with truth and are unafraid of illuminating ugliness in the process… I’ve known of this book, the foundational work on recovery from codependence, for some time, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. In the meantime, I absorbed a lot of the concepts in it from wise friends in the halls of recovery, and from Beattie’s daily meditation reader The Language of Letting Go. If I hadn’t, I think this book would have landed like a thunderclap. As it was, even as familiar with the ideas in it as I was, it was quite discomfiting at times. In the best sort of way. Highly recommended for anyone who has suffered from codependence in any of its varieties, and still needs to learn that fundamental truth that taking care of ourselves is not only okay, it’s necessary.         

Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare, 1599)
I’m probably not going to deliver anything here that’s been substantially missed by others in the last 400 years or so. I will talk a little bit about why I wanted to read it. After going through a classics kick last year that included reading the the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad and Paradise Lost, as well as re-reading (well, 50%, anyway) the Bible, I developed a taste for epic works of mythical power. Pound for pound, you pretty much don’t get more of that anywhere in English literature than you do with Shakespeare. I left a very happy reader, not least of all because the pages spoke so much more to me now than they did during my previous reading. Apparently, my world has grown since the 8th Grade!

Illinois changes nothing: Romney wins, but not until the end

As you may have heard, this cute little state below is voting today, and all indications are that Romney will win, and win big (graphic from FiveThirtyEight.com):

A major victory in a populous winner-take-all state. Surely a turning point, no? Well… I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but one of the interesting things about “turning points” in this race is how little they’ve actually done to change the underlying dynamics. So far, 44% (or so) of the union, in population terms, has voted (graphic from Wikipedia): 

When Romney took Michigan and Arizona, that was considered a major win. When Santorum then won Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, there was a lot of talk about Romney’s future being in doubt. Washington and Maine wins shored Romney back up. Then Santorum won Kansas by a huge margin (ah yes, but note that Romney got the majority of the delegates that day, thanks to caucuses in US territories). On Super Tuesday, Romney was on top after winning 6 states, including Ohio. Or was he shaky for losing 4 states and barely squeaking by in Ohio? Whichever, he got half the delegates that day. Then last week, Santorum won convincing victories in Alabama and Mississippi, where Romney placed third. Except that, thanks to Hawaii, and more US territory caucuses, Romney got about as many delegates as Santorum did that night.

Now, coming off of a big win this weekend in Puerto Rico, Romney will likely take Illinois tonight. He’s on his way! Except when Santorum wins Louisiana and Missouri this weekend. And on it will go…

The very earliest I could picture Santorum getting out would be after April 24th, if, say, he lost Wisconsin April 3rd, performed weakly in other contests, and then was embarrassed by losing his home state of Pennsylvania. More likely, he’ll do well enough in enough places that he’ll be encouraged to stay in going in to May. And Gingrich has made clear that he’s not going anywhere, even though all his best chances to break out have already passed.       

The upshot of all of this? Despite Gingrich’s self-justification for staying in, and Santorum’s continuing zeal, as Nate Silver makes clear, Romney’s machine is competing so strongly across the board, pulling in delegates even in places he doesn’t win, and taking winner-take-alls when they come, that he’s almost certain to get to 1,144 before the convention. Barring a candidacy-hobbling scandal (which, come on, a Mormon is not likely to give rise to), Romney will be the nominee.

But not very quickly. As noted above, about 44% of the country has voted, population-wise. And Romney has gotten (sound of computer clicking and whirring), yes that’s right, about 45% of the total he needs:

1,275 Delegates remaining to be selected as of 3/19/12
628 Romney still needs (1,144 total, minus 516  he currently has according to Real Clear Politics tally)
49.3% Percentage of remainder needed

There’s no reason, given the states remaining, that he should do worse than this. His popular vote total thus far is running at about 40%, but delegation allocation rules, and his campaign’s skillful targeting of opportunities for delegate upside, is giving him more than 50% of delegates on average. But there’s also no reason that he should do markedly better. As you’ll see below, there’s no real trend on his part toward getting above 50% thus far:

Mathematically, Romney will, almost certainly, be the nominee. And mathematically, he will, almost certainly, not get there until nearly the end (probably when California, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota vote on June 5th, maybe not until Utah does on June 26th). Nothing that happens in Illinois tonight will change this.

Headed into Super Tuesday, Romney weakest Republican nominee in 40 years

First of all, let me restate what I said the last time I visited this topic- This is in no way an attack on Mitt Romney personally or politically. Personally, by all accounts, he’s a heck of a guy. Look at this story, for Pete’s sake! And politically, before he became a late convert to being “severely Conservative”, he was one of the Republicans I most respected in policy terms. This is purely a matter of facts and figures, and the facts and figures show the following: 

Going in to tomorrow’s Super Tuesday contests, Mitt Romney is the weakest Republican nominee of the last 40 years. And he likely still will be after tomorrow.

First, a recap of our story thus far. Almost a quarter of the states in the Union have now voted (graphic courtesy of Wikipedia commons):

If you tally the votes to date, you’ll see that Romney currently has about a 41% share of the total (my chart, based on final tallies from each state):

That, to be sure, is a lead. But it’s not that high of a lead. To place it in perspective, here’s his total thus far compared to the total that the eventual nominee of both parties has gotten in all contested races since 1972 (when modern primary and caucus rules start to apply) (my chart, based on Wikipedia figures for each year):

What becomes immediately clear is that Republican nominees, win or lose in the Fall, generally consolidate their internal support very well. The only Republican on the list who got less than 50% of his party’s total was John McCain, and it’s worth remembering that the party faithful were decidedly lukewarm about him. Romney thus far is running below that level, in a bracket usually reserved for Democratic nominees.  

One might expect Romney’s share of the vote to increase later on in the contest. But I’m not sure one would expect it to increase a whole lot. Looking back at the vote totals thus far, we can see that he’s only gotten above 50% in one of 13 states. Of the 10 states up tomorrow, most polls and forecast models (take for example, Nate Silver’s current projections at FiveThirtyEight) show him above 50% in only two states: Massachusetts, aka his home state, and Virginia, aka the state where Ron Paul is the only other candidate who got on the ballot.

It’s not Romney bashing to note that this is underwhelming support. The same weakness of underlying support is apparent in national polling. While he currently leads nationally, he’s seen four other candidates pull ahead of him five different times in the past six months:

Indeed, in the last six months, he’s only been in the lead for a total of approximately two months altogether. Again, it’s interesting to compare to McCain at the same point in 2008, a candidate who the party was lukewarm about and who only really started to pull ahead just before the primaries:

They weren’t excited about McCain, but once the voting started they lined up behind him pretty quickly.

Of course, winning the nomination is not about national polls, or even state vote totals, it’s about delegates. In that regard, the following offers some food for thought:

   1,932 Delegates remaining to be selected as of 3/5/12
     971 Romney still needs (1,144 total, minus 173  he currently has according to Real Clear Politics tally)
  50.3% Percentage needed

As noted earlier, his total of voting thus far is well below 50%, and isn’t likely to get much higher tomorrow. Of course, delegate allocation rules are quite complex and vary state to state, such that delegate allocation is not always directly related to proportion of vote. Nevertheless, to the extent that the two roughly track, we would expect Romney to not get much more than half of the remaining delegates. Indeed, the best guess on tomorrow is that he’ll get about 50% of total Super Tuesday delegates.   

At that pace, it will take him until June to wrap up the nomination. The only modern Republican race that went on anything like that long was 1976, when incumbent Gerald Ford was nearly unseated by challenger Ronald Reagan.

There is no serious scenario for anyone to beat Romney for the nomination, and’ even going on until June, there’s every reason at this point to think he’ll wrap it up before the convention, preventing anyone else from being drafted there. But any way you look at it, he is in an extraordinarily weak position vis-a-vis modern Republican nominees.