The Dwarf’s Musings Version 2.0

The new place to be

Musings on the NFL and more…

Hey all!…

 

So it’s been a couple of weeks since my very first post on this new site, and I have a lot on my mind today.  So let’s get to it…

Let’s start with the National Football League.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a lot of football this year, and it has been quite the interesting season.  For starters, I think one of the most interesting teams to see this year has been the New England Patriots.  Last year, they were simply an unstoppable force, up until the Super Bowl, of course.  But in 2008, with the loss of QB Tom Brady, they became a totally different team.  At first, it seemed like the sky had fallen for the Patriots.  They won their first two games, despite backup QB Matt Cassel’s struggles.  But then, they got clobbered by the Dolphins at home, and lost again by more than 20 points two weeks later against the Chargers in San Diego.  At that point, the Pats were sitting at 3-2 and the future looked bleak at best.  

But great teams are not built around only one player.  Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels started to implement a lot more short throws and screens into the game plan, putting the ball in the hands of his playmakers and allowing them to make plays, all the while relieving a whole lot of pressure from Cassel.  In turn, the man who had never started a game since high school got more and more comfortable and the offense started clicking.  In 6 of the following 9 games, the New England offense would put up 23 or more points, topping the 30-point mark 4 times.  This is nothing compared to the offensive juggernaut that were the 2007 edition of the team, but still well above NFL standards.    

Stuck in a 3-way tie atop the AFC East with the Jets and Dolphins, the Patriots are fighting for their playoff lives right now.  But they have proven that they are not a one-man team.  Tom Brady will go down as one of the great quarterbacks of his generation, but the Pats have proven that they can win without him, albeit with a lot more difficulty.  Whether the team of the decade will make the playoffs without their star QB has been an interesting storyline all year long, and that’s definitely something I’ll be looking at for the next two weeks.

The other big story this year has been the Brett Favre saga.  Last year, Favre led the Packers to the NFC Championship game, where they came one interception (Favre-thrown) away from the Super Bowl.  This year, under new QB Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are 5-9.  Last year, without Favre, the Jets were a dismal 4-12.  This year, they’re 9-5 and looking like a playoff team.  So, were the Packers wrong in letting Favre go?  I think so… Now, I know that there are a lot more factors in play than just Favre here.  The Jets also acquired defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who has been a rock for them on defense.  And the Packers defense, which was so good last year, has been mediocre at best in 2008.  But the answer to the question can be found, in my opinion, in Miami, of all places.  When Favre was traded to New York, that meant that Chad Pennington became free, and he was quickly signed by the Dolphins.  And while Pennington has played really well in Miami, it is perhaps his leadership qualities that have most helped the Dolphins improve so much in one year.  The 2007 Green Bay Packers were Brett Favre’s team.  He was the unquestioned leader of that group of 53 men, who were all willing to lay it all out for him.  And just like Pennington took control of a young Miami team, Brett Favre has become the leader in New York, the guy all the other players turn to when the pressure mounts.  And no matter how well Aaron Rodgers has played for Green Bay this year, he is no Brett Favre when it comes to leading his men to the field of battle.  So, while the future looks bright for Rodgers and the Packers, I’m pretty sure fans in Green Bay wish number 4 was still around.

I also want to talk a bit more about my beloved Dolphins, the late-season push of Donovan McNabb and the Eagles and more, but that will come in my next post, probably next week.  

Before I go, I would like to mention that life is very good on top.  On top of what?  On top of my hockey pool, that is.  Yes, The Dwarf is sitting comfortably on top of the standings.  Now, I was helped by Le Maitre’s loss of Brodeur, Sweet LP’s loss of Luongo, Veillotron’s loss of half his team (I mean, come on, 7 players injured right now… are you kidding me?  my sympathies, Veillotron)  and Rocket Paquette’s inability to pick a good team.  Still, while it’s nice to be the best, it doesn’t take away from the pain of not having seen one single minute of live NHL hockey this year.  I miss my hockey, I really do…

I will see most of you in about 10 days or so, and will be talking to most of you before then… but to the others, I wish you a Merry Christmas…

Get the comments going guys… let’s make this site a community again!

 

Dwarf out.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Top Ten Albums of 2008

Today, for my very first post on this new blog, I am going to run down my Top Ten Albums of 2008.  So, without further ado, here we go…

 

10. Bloc Party – Intimacy

A bit over a year ago, I fell in love with A Weekend in the City, Bloc Party‘s sophomore release.  Where AWITC was focused and uncomfortably personal, Intimacy seems to lack direction.  It starts off with 2 two very experimental tracks that, after multiple listens, still leave me incredibly cold.  Things get a whole lot better, though, with “Halo” and “Trojan Horse”, a couple of tracks reminiscent of their rocking debut album, Silent Alarm.  Likewise, “Biko” and “Signs” work very well as understated little ballads that intersect with the previously mentioned rockers.  Bloc Party pushes the envelope a bit further on “Zephyrus”, yet seem to rein themselves in for the last couple of tracks, which take us back to 2007’s A Weekend in the City.  

All in all, Intimacy is an uneven effort, yet it merits its place in my Top Ten based on the high marks earned by its best tracks.

 

9. Chris Walla – Field Manual

I reviewed this record here back when it was released in January of this year, so I won’t get back into it in details.  What I will say is that almost a year after its release, Field Manual has proven to stand the test of time.  Songs like “A Bird is a Song”, “St. Modesto” and “Everybody On” remain fixtures in my favorite playlists on my iPod.  Others have grown on me as well.  One thing is for sure:  Chris Walla has solidified his stature as an excellent songwriter himself, not just as a superb producer (he produced Tegan And Sara‘s 2007 release, The Con) or Ben Gibbard’s right-hand man within Death Cab for Cutie.

 

8. Wintersleep – Welcome To The Night Sky

This album is a great example of why the iTunes Music Store is perhaps the best place to discover music.  I had no knowledge of this little band from Halifax, Nova Scotia when their third record, Welcome To The Night Sky, was released.  But there it was, on on October 15th, in the new releases of the Alternative section.  And I just fell in love instantly.  “Search Party” is undoubtedly one of the best songs of the year.  Its mid-tempo beats sync perfectly with the gentle wailing of the ethereal guitars, Paul Murphy’s voice wrapping beautifully around the barrage of sounds as he sings “I used to dream about saving the world/Now I just dream about the holiday”.  

But there is more to this album.  “Weighty Ghost” is ambitious to say the least, with  accordions and keyboards weaving into one another.  Opener “Drunk on Aluminum” begins as a mid-tempo rocker, but builds to a cathartic end, propelled by thumping drums and psychedelic guitars.  “Archeologists” features a really cool and fast bassline, and “Dead Letter and the Infinite Yes” is as catchy as it gets, setting us back to the late 60’s with its melody and folk-ish psychedelia.  In short, this is a really great effort by a little Canadian band that merits a lot more attention than it is getting.

 

7. The Killers – Day & Age

The Killers have always worn their influences on their sleeves, but it always seemed as if they were going too far, sometimes to the point of sounding ridiculous.  In that sense, Day & Age is much of the same.  We can hear anything from Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Human League and New Order to Hall & Oates and others from the decade.  And while the band’s love for the 80’s is still very clear,  the songs on this album seem more like nods to the past rather than remakes.  Still, the real success of this album lies in how all these different sounds and influences somehow manage to cohabit together remarkably well.  From the synth-driven first single, “Human” and the rockier “Spaceman” to the almost Franz Ferdinand-ish “Joyride” and “This is Your Life”, the funky “I Can’t Stay” or the excellent closer “Goodnight, Travel Well”, Day & Age flows through effortlessly, with no real hiccups.  The Killers could always write great songs, but their downfall was that they couldn’t keep it up for a whole album.  Not so here: there are no real weak links whatsoever.  This is truly a must-have for anyone who is a little nostalgic about the 80’s, or anyone who’s enjoyed any of their previous material.

 

6. Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

17 years is how long it will have taken for this album to come out.  Now, this version of Guns N’ Roses has little to do with the band that gave us Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion 1 & 2.  Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum are all gone, leaving only Axl Rose from the original band.  But, though it took many years, Rose did manage to assemble a more than capable group of musicians.  The end result is something that resembles Use Your Illusion, an uneven and confusing but sometimes great collection of songs.  

The album kicks off with the title track (and lead single) and it sets the tone: right off the bat, Rose is telling the world he doesn’t need his old bandmates to rock out.  “Shackler’s Revenge” is another hard-rocker, one that mixes electronic beats with swirling guitars and an extremely catchy chorus, as well as Rose’s familiar wail.  It is one of my favorites.  “Better” was written in the late 90’s and it shows, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pretty good song, although the chorus lacks punch.  “If The World” shows off the lead singer’s infatuation with electronic music and programed beats.  “I.R.S.”, “Sorry” and “Madagascar” are all solid rockers, the latter featuring excerpts from Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech as well as the opening line from Use Your Illusion, the famous “What we have hear is failure to communicate”.  

Chinese Democracy is nothing if not ambitious.  And while there are some high notes, it most often fails to reach the skies it aims for.  There is nothing here that is as grandiose as “November Rain” or as poignant as “Don’t Cry”.  Likewise, the rockers try very hard to match other great ones from the band’s past, but don’t really come close.  But, to be fair, the best moments from Guns N’ Roses‘ past may rank as some of the best overall songs in the last 30 years, so it is hard for anyone to come close.  So, while Axl Rose fails in his bid for greatness, he certainly manages to give us a very, very good record to enjoy for years to come.

 

5. Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

2005’s Plans was Death Cab for Cutie‘s first foray in the mainstream.  And it was a very successful one indeed.  But where Plans was full of mid and down-tempo tunes, slick and polished, Narrow Stairs is like the anti-Plans: it is raw, direct and much more difficult to digest at first.  Yet, it only takes a few spins to realize how good this band and this album really are.  

The first thing that jumps out is just how talented of a lyricist Ben Gibbard is.  For this record, he not only dips inside for material, but he also transforms himself into a bit of a storyteller.  His stories range from creepy stalking behavior (“I Will Possess Your Heart”) to lost love (“Your New Twin Sized Bed”) to a marriage gone wrong (“Cath”).  Through it all, he shows an unbelievable ease with the english language, which he seamlessly marries with his melodic and very pleasant voice.  Also, drummer Jason McGerr is at his finest here, often understated but always hitting the right beats, under the guidance of producer extraordinaire (and guitarist) Chris Walla, who is also in fine form.

Narrow Stairs is filled with quality material, including the aforementioned “I Will Possess Your Heart”, “Cath” and “Your New Twin Sized Bed”, as well as “Grapevine Fires” and “The Ice Is Getting Thinner”.  But, to me, the best gem on the record is the extremely poppy and catchy “No Sunlight”, which matches a very joyous melody with much  more somber lyrics from Gibbard.  

While this is not as good as the band’s finest record, Transatlanticism (released in 2003), or maybe as accessible as 2005’s Plans, Narrow Stairs is a step forward for the band, conjuring up sounds from their past in order to better enter this second phase of their remarkable career.

 

4. Mogwai – The Hawk is Howling

Mogwai is a Scottish band that remains relatively unknown despite having been around since the mid-to-late 90’s.  But they don’t make the type of music that attracts crowds, so it is understandable.  For years, their distinctive sound, which could be referred to as “orchestrated instrumental alternative”, has earned them a special place in critics’ hearts, as well as a faithful core of followers, but little else.  Their biggest claim to fame might be to have had a few songs featured on the Miami Vice soundtrack, a couple of years ago.

While The Hawk is Howling is instrumental, it is not a quiet effort to say the least.  In that sense, opener “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” is a little misleading, starting off with a quiet little piano line and building to a powerful but somewhat restrained close.  That being said, it does set the tone for the incredible musicianship to come.  “Batcat” raises the volume up, conjuring the inner metal-heads within the band.  “The Sun Smells Too Loud” is very up-tempo and almost screams for a poppy vocal line to accompany it.  “I Love You, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School” is long and complex, and builds slowly to an incredibly cathartic finale.  Mogwai are one of the best bands in the world at taking their time and letting songs develop, making it an extremely rich experience for the listener.  On this album, they continue in their tradition of making great records that go largely unnoticed, but remain extremely influential to those lucky enough to be touched by them.

 

3. Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul

Oasis? Is this 1995 all over again?  Well, no, it’s not.  And don’t look for anything that sounds like “Wonderwall” or “Don’t look back in anger”, because you won’t find it.  Oh, and while you’re at it, you can lay to rest those Beatles comparisons.  This is not that little group of brash copycats we used to know.  This is now a band full of accomplished musicians who have found their own little niche, and possibly their own place in rock n’ roll history.  This is 2008, and this is what Oasis were destined to become.

The album kicks off with an excellent psychedelic rocker called “Bag it up”, featuring Noel Gallagher’s rhythmic guitar line and his brother Liam’s familiar voice.  From there, they seamlessly go into the mid-tempo “The Turning”, another track that reminds us just how good a songwriter Noel is.  “I’m Outta Time” is a great little ballad written by Liam, in which he shows an extended vocal range: no more is he stuck only with that famously plaintive voice.  Lead single “Falling Down” is another great track, one driven by the band’s new rhythm section, which we were introduced to on 2005’s Don’t Believe The Truth.  But the best song here is undoubtedly “The Shock of Lightning”, a pulsating rocker that shows off everything we love about the band. 

After the worldwide smash success of What’s The Story (Morning Glory), Oasis seemed to give in to their demons and somehow lost their way for just under a decade.  They came back to earth in 2005, releasing their first really good material in a long time.  On Dig Out Your Soul, the band fulfills its promise and finally gets back to the level of creativity and musicianship we had come to expect from them.  No, this is not 1995 all over again, but it sure feels good to see Oasis on top of the British Rock movement once again.

 

2. The Armada – The Armada

Speaking of being back on top, anyone remember Canadian super group The Tea Party?  After their weak (by their standards, anyway) 2004 release Seven Circles, the band imploded.  While drummer Jeff Burrows and bassist Stuart Chatwood disappeared from the musical map, lead singer/guitarist Jeff Martin came out with an album of acoustic soft rock called Exile and the Kingdom in 2006.  While it was far from being a bad record, it was a little underwhelming.  Martin spent 2 years touring with Irish percussionist Wayne Sheehy and, about a year ago, the two retreated to Martin’s newly built studio in the Irish countryside to record new material.  What came out is a new band (including bassist/keyboardist Gareth Forsyth) called The Armada and an album of the same name.

Oh, and what a return to form it is.  The hard rock, the intimacy of it, the middle-eastern sounds, the blues, the electronic touches and Martin’s sometimes menacing, sometimes gentle vocals are all back.  Opener “Going Down Blues” starts off with a bang, reminding us that even at 38, very few people can match Jeff Martin’s guitar prowess.  “Chinese Whispers” is the best rock song he has written since “Cathartik”, off of 2001’s The Interzone Mantras.  “Broken” takes us back to one of The Tea Party‘s best ballads, “Soulbreaking”.  “A Line in the Sand” is the record’s “piece de resistance”, featuring one of the most beautiful guitar lines you’ll ever hear.  “Morocco” is another big rocker, this time bringing back the electronic and middle-eastern fusion The Tea Party introduced with 1997’s Transmission.  “The Rosary” and “Baby’s Come Undone” will take you straight to India with its sitars, sarrods, dumbeks and groovy melodies.  On “Closure”, another great rock song we had become used to hearing from Martin, he lashes out at his former bandmates: “Sentimental, foolish friend/where’s your bucket of gold/Where’s the riches, where’s the fame/Where’s the angel you sold”, he sings on the album’s darkest track.  

If The Armada is a return to form for Jeff Martin, it is not a perfect one.  The inclusion of “Back Snake Blues” (which was originally featured on Exile and the Kingdom and re-recorded here) seems unnecessary.  And lyrically, Martin does not even come close to matching his previous output.  But, on the whole, this is the best album he has written since The Interzone Mantras in 2001.  If anything, this is a really nice place to start from as he and his new bandmates embark on this journey.

 

1. Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endelaust

When Agaetis Byrjun, the band’s sophomore album, was released in 1999, it quickly became clear that these guys had the potential to become one of the world’s best outfits.  They became known for wrapping their ambitious and beautiful melodies in walls of sounds, which I came to describe as “orchestral music from space”.  Always very melodic, their music was also usually dark, if not brooding, and rarely hopeful or joyous.  But on 2005’s Takk…, they started to show a lighter, poppier side.  On this release, they take it a step further.  

For the first time, the songs are allowed to breath.  We can distinguish instruments from one another.  We can hear pianos and acoustic guitars.  Sure, they still shoot for the outer space on a couple of songs (“Gódan daginn”, “Vid spilum endalaust”), but they remain grounded for most of the record.  The end result is truly fascinating.  Opener “Gobbledigook” is an alternative pop song like they have never written, one that would feel at home on a Death Cab for Cutie album.  “Fljótavík” shows the band at its most vulnerable, with just piano and violins accompanying the very fragile vocals.  “Illegresi” is another very touching, very simple song, this time featuring an acoustic guitar, which was previously never found in the band’s arsenal.  Album closer “All Alright” is another first for the band, as it is sung in English.  Finally, the iTunes pre-order included a studio version of the song “Heima”, which was originally written for the band’s DVD of the same name (which I strongly recommend, by the way).  That song is, to me, the absolute best song of 2008.

With this album, Sigur Ros proves that they are not only great musicians, great orchestrators or great producers, but also great songwriters and that, when needed, they can peel the curtains back and let the songs shine on their own.  This album arrived in the world just as I was arriving in London in June, and it has followed me ever since.  As such, it is my favorite album of 2008.

 

Honorable mentions:  Ani DiFranco – Red Letter Year; Coldplay – Viva La Vida;  Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers; British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?; Ryan Adams – Cardinology.

 

Just a couple of things before I sign off…  First, it’s great to be back, and I hope you guys will get the comment section going.  Also, check back next week, as I’m eager to discuss hockey, the NFL and our “Transatlantic” pool…

See you all soon…

Dwarf out.

December 6, 2008 Posted by | Music | 3 Comments