Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top 5 L.A. Highways

The traffic, the smog, the weirdos, the cliches.  In fact, none of those three things are a detriment in my opinion.  I like it out here.  Granted, I am a New York fan but I could make it out here just fine.  So, in taking stock of some unique things that exist on this coast, I tried to look past the obvious and found the super-obvious: highways.  

Yep.  The stalwart concrete creation of man.  Thanks to good ol' Ike, we can travel about from state to state in a relatively easy fashion.  How does this pertain to LA, you ask?  Well, LA is a huge city.  Gigantic, even.  It spans almost 500 square miles.  Yikes.  And how else are you going to search every single one of those miles without the trusty highways?  You're not.  Or you could if you have a few years to waste.  The following is my list for top five highways/freeways/motorways/traffic cesspools that I have had the pleasure of traversing the past few months.

5.  Interstate 5

This baby is long.  It's the only interstate to touch both the Mexican and Candian border.  With such destinations as Seattle, Portland, San Diego and of course LA, this is your one stop shop for all your west coast needs.  I chose the 5 for it's access to the O.C. ("Don't call it that...").  Everytime I've used it, there has never been too much traffic and it moves fairly quickly.  One of my favorite attractions right off the 5 just a little south of downtown is The Citadel.  I actually have no idea what it is but it is so deliciously gawdy.  I mean, they had a The Biggest Loser casting call there.  Score one for sweetness.  


4. U.S. Route 101

We get the crummy end of this highway cause it stretches all the way up Washington.  But this highway actually got the crummy end of a deal.  Interstate 5 came in and took some of the 101's business in the 1950's.  But all is not too bad when you're the highway of The Golden Gate Bridge.  I don't even like the 101 but I have to include the highway that takes you right past the Hollywood sign.  Just to see that is worth traveling it.  The traffic is generally horrendous though since it takes riders into downtown.  But, I was on it many a times this semester and now I know to avoid it.  You should too.  But only after the first time.

Hollywood Sign.jpg

3. Interstate 405

Running from Irvine up to San Fernando, the 405 is kind of the 5's little brother.  Reaching a tad further west, the 405 just feels like home.  I don't know why that is.  To get south of downtown, my GPS always wants me to take the 101 to the 110 and I don't want to.  The 405 just draws me for some reason.  That was the way we took out to EA Games earlier this semester.  Coming back right before you exit to the 101 near the Sherman Oaks mall, you come over the top of a giant hill and you can see city lights strech north for miles.  It's a beautiful view.  My favorite memory though is when I was coming back from Balboa Pier during Spring Break and I threw on Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights.  That album is extremely abstract to me and not a favorite but the juxtaposition of that complex swirl of sound and the almost plains-like scenery and greenery that suprisingly accompanies the 405 down south is unforgettable.  It was the early evening and the sky lit up, not kidding, like crooked teeth for all you Death Cab fans.  Too cool.


2. California State Route 1

The great Pacific Coast Highway.  Or PCH ("Stil,l don't call it that...").  With a storied history, the PCH is one of the most famous and oldest highways in the nation dating all the way back to the 1920's.  Oh, and it is so beautiful driving along it.  I was lucky enough to be taking it around Huntington Beach in the early evening with the sun going down to my left.  It was gorgeous.  I was feeling very reflective and oddly enough had Antics by Interpol spinning.  My absolute favorite thing is all the oil rigs that are offshore.  Ever since I was in Virginia near some naval shipyard or something, I have been so fascinated and discreetly creeped out by large objects at great distances out on the ocean.  These oil rigs fit the description.  I feel it would be futile to try and explain this fixation here but it had to be said.  I'll try this, if you've seen the new Star Trek trailer when Chris Pine is riding his motorcycle and in the background are faintly visible giant structures.  I guess that's how I see the oil rigs.  


1. California State Route 134

The little guy.  The underdog.  The shortest of all my choices.  At a scant 13 miles, the 134 is my favorite.  Why?  Well, my friends, it gets me to Chop Shop ever so quickly.  I know it well and it knows me.  Never have a had a single ounce of traffic while traversing it, but that could be cause I'm going the opposite direction of the rush in the morning and evening.  The best part is when I'm coming home around 6ish or so and the sun is going down.  Driving up along a ridge, you can see the Valley and downtown but also the ocean on a clear day.  During sunset, it doesn't get much better.  The cool thing that I get to see right before I exit is the Colorado Street Bridge, or Pasadena's Suicide Bridge.  Long story short, apparently over one hundred poor souls have jumped to their death from this perch.  I'll direct you here so you can learn more.


So there you have it.  If you're wondering why I'm breaking the blog silence with something so mundane as highways, it's fine.  I had to do this for one of my Belmont West classes.  But it's a nice break from the usual complaining I do about other things honestly more unimportant and mundane as highways.  I do promise to regularly be back here at some point in time but I've learned to not make promises.  But for now, think about which one you want to drive and bring a weirdo out with you.  He or she will enjoy the smog and traffic.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Top Ten Albums of 2008

The end of another year.  What do we have to show for it?  Nothing.  Well, not really.  We’re about to have a new president (who according to some people, may or may not be the savior of all things horrible), an economy in dire straights, and Chinese Democracy.  Is it a bad thing that the only thing in that list that blows my mind is Axl’s doomed-from-the-beginning opus?  No?  I haven’t even heard it yet, but what I have heard are reviews ranging from rave-party glowing to dark-as-a-Goth-shindig.  I mean, if that album was anything less than perfect, it was a failure.  So…it failed.  But you can’t blame Axl for trying.  At least we all get to experience the sweet nectar that is Dr. Pepper.  I still don’t know the details behind that but just the idea was sweet enough. 

The real question you're asking is: “What is he doing back, poisoning the web with his writing that he thinks is so clever?”  First, thanks for the compliment.  Second, I’m not impervious to year-end lists.  I’ve got my Top Ten Albums of 2008 right here in front of me.  Let me preface with how it’s not going to blow anyone’s mind.  In fact, most of my friends might laugh me out the door.  My list is devoid of the TV On The Radio’s or the Animal Collective’s or Fleet Fox’s or even the Hold Steady’s (sorry, Corey).  After that whole mainstream rant I went on in the last post a few months ago, I’d say that’s exactly where I’m sitting.  But I think it’s cool that if I’d looked at a release schedule back in January, I could have almost picked out this list that I’m about to…uh…list.  Actually, that’s pretty cool.  As someone on the AV Club said the other day in reference to things like Wall-E and The Dark Knight being some of the best movies of the year, why do we live in a world where living up to the hype is such a bad thing?  And that is what the albums that I have listed here have done.

Again, these are opinion.  You can try to sway me, ridicule me, or agree.  That’s why music just plain sucks.  You can’t prove anything.  You hear that, Mike?  Take your fourth diminished, tres octave D-sus chord and shove it.  Throwing theory in my face isn’t gonna change my mind.  So here we go.  Oh yeah, they’re in alphabetical order by artist. 

1.  Coldplay, Viva La Vida

As you’ll see further down, this was a year of experimenting from some of the larger acts.  Nobody progressed further than Coldplay.  While the album didn’t grab me at first, it’s definitely a grower, with deeper instrumentation and melodies.  There are no “Clocks” here, just solid songwriting.  And they’re not Radiohead so can it with the comparisons.  Just let them write what they want. 

Favorite Track: “Lovers in Japan”


2.  Death Cab for Cutie, Narrow Stairs

Plans was merely alright, only helped in my mind by the Direction DVD.  But Narrow Stairs brought Ben Gibbard and company back in the limelight.  Rocking harder than ever, the opener “Bixby Canyon Bridge” showed that you’re in for a ride of ups and downs like any great Death Cab record.

Favorite Track: “Long Division”


3.  Fall Out Boy, Folie A Deux

Get off your indie high horse and just let go.  FOB is making the best pop-punk music in the absence of Blink-182 (which might not be for long).  And as their first single says, they don’t care what you think.  Love him or hate him, Pete Wentz writes some very vulnerable stuff.  And these guys don’t rest on their laurels, but they grab those laurels and bring them with them on the quest to make perfect pop records.  They’re on the way…

Favorite Tracks: “The (Shipped) Gold Standard”, “What A Catch, Donnie”, and the Neptunes-produced “w.a.m.s.”


4.  Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight

This is one I wouldn’t have called.  The other great album from an animal moniker, FR writes jaunty tunes with a little anger behind them.  I will say the album could have been about two songs leaner, but it’s still more solid than any other indie band championed this year.  Pitchfork readers agree in that it was underrated.  So give it a shot. 

Favorite Tracks: “The Modern Leper”, “Keep Yourself Warm”


5.  Hot Chip,  Made In The Dark

I think any album with “Shake a Fist” on it would make it to the top ten.  What…a…song.  But the rest of the album has shining moments of electronic and acoustic instrumentation.  Some songs can drag, but isn’t that the beauty of the genre?  I look forward to more.

Favorite Track: “Shake a Fist” (duh)


6.  Kanye West, 808’s & Heartbreaks

Is there anybody more interesting that Kanye West right now?  Oh, I’m sorry.  I meant annoying.  Either way, you can’t deny that this guy tries to be the greatest, even while he still thinks he is the greatest.  Get past what you’ve heard about his fourth disc, cause there's some great stuff here.  I like the sparse instrumentation and the auto-tune really isn’t near as annoying as his personality.  I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you like on this disc.  If not, then read Pitchfork’s review and maybe you’ll listen differently.  I hate those guys but they can really nail it sometimes.

Favorite Track:  “Paranoid”

7.  The Killers, Day & Age

No surprise here.  After hearing “Human” for the first time though, there might have been.  Now I love that song.  The rest of album isn’t too shabby either.  The Killers aren’t afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves (the Boss and Bowie), but they take those fractions and make them add up their own way.  They’re only three true albums in and have tried more than most bands do in fifteen years.  Needless to say, The Killers are going to be tons of fun to watch over the next decade.   

Favorite Tracks: “I Can’t Stay”, “Neon Tiger”


8.  Kings of Leon, Only By The Night

You wanna talk about no surprise.  I’ve already said all I can say about this album.  I love it and if you don’t, tough.  I can’t make you change your mind.  Just…I don’t know…try again. 

Favorite Tracks: “Manhattan”, “Be Somebody”


9.  The Raconteurs, Consolers Of The Lonely

I liked Broken Boy Soldiers enough but this one took me by storm.  There is no doubt that Jack White is better with a rhythm section not anchored by a three-year-old’s skills (Sorry, Meg.  You suck).  But it’s not just White that makes these guys what they are.  Brendan Benson certainly adds a great dynamic.  I love when the two trade off.  But this album is a rocker through and through. 

Favorite Tracks: “Salute Your Solution”, “Five on the Five”


10.  Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

This stuff is just too much fun.  It’s so simple, yet so replayable.  It’s nice to see that they haven’t been thrown to the dogs yet like others before them (Cold War Kids, Tapes N Tapes, Clap Your Hands…)  I hope they stick around but I’m afraid maybe their schtick will wear off on the second go round.  Let’s hope we get our blood sucked out again soon.  Bad metaphor?  Yeah, it was. 


So there you have it.  Geez, looking at it now, it bores even me.  But who cares?  I like them all.  Some runners up: Ra Ra Riot’s The Rhumb Line, Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, and the Hold Steady’s Stay Positive.  Seriously, there are more too.  It’s been a good year for sure.  2009 is looking up in my book: new Trail of Dead, Franz, possibly Muse, and…wait for it…Third Eye Blind.  Yeah, that thing is on the way.  Too much excitement.

Well, I’m starting this thing back up again cause of my California escapades coming up in a few weeks.  Should be fun.  I go from coast to coast to give you the most…crap.  See you soon.  Til next time, baby birds.  

- Chase

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Returnings of Leon

So it's been a little too long.  Maybe a month and a half.  I should have given you a recap of New York.  I mean, I'd planned on it.  But now, I think both you and I feel it's a little fleeting.  So, I'm not going to do it.  Ok.  One word: freaking the best.  So I cheated a little a bit.  

Instead of me rambling about some topic, which I hope to do with some regularity even though I am a busy, busy dude, I offer you a review to one of my favorite band's new album.  Kings of Leon are back with Only By The Night but you know this cause I've only been talking about it all summer and it's finally out on Tuesday.  

So without further ado, here it is.


Let me begin by making this distinction: "mainstream" is not a genre, but merely the location of where the music is being typically heard.  I'll use this example: you all know that I've listened to crappy music, and I still do, nothing wrong with that.  I used to really like Trust Company.  Go ahead, laugh.  I had never heard them on the radio around me at all but apparently they tore the radio up in other parts of the country.  Trust Company was only "mainstream" in certain locations but one would use the word to describe their music as such.  See how "mainstream" refers to the location not a genre?  Take Muse for the counter: their music is hideously "mainstream" over in the U.K.  Muse's music is hardly what one would label "mainstream" with the expert instrumentation and classical influence.  "Mainstream" is a location, not a genre.  Repeat it with me kids: a location.
You might be asking yourself: what in the world does all this have to do with the new Kings of Leon record?  Well, I'll tell you.  Too many people are decrying the band as mainstream now, thus these idiots who judge music on social standards are forgoing what I believe to be a fantastic record.  KOL is still a band about big hooks and intense lyrics, but now the outward southern exterior has faded.  This does not make them mainstream, if they blow up because of these incredibly catchy songs, then I guess they will be.  Here's the bigger question though: who the heck cares?  Don't we want more thoughful music such as this instead of souless, mid-twentysomethings singing about lesbian kissing?  If your answer is anything but, "Absolutely we do!" then stop listening to music and go read books because Lord knows you could use the smarts.  The point of this sermon/review is like what you like, ok?  Don't worry about who else does.  Judge a band on the songs, not about where the songs are being heard.
With all that ridiculousness out of the way, let's talk about Only By The Night, the Kings' fourth effort.  There's no doubt that last year's Because of the Times marked a new direction for those hairy, hairy boys' youth and manhood of the young variety years ago.  Too bad people are afraid of change and whined about the lack of southerniness on BotT.  These are the same yuppies who love change when it comes from a specific full-of-hot-air Democratic nominee.  The brothers Followill and cousin Matthew said it themselves: making the same record over and over again would get very boring.  I'm pretty sure the southern thing was still there, what, with songs about Camaros and the great state of Arizona.  Think of some of your favortie bands.  What if U2 had stuck with the good thing they had going with Boy almost thirty years ago?  No Joshua Tree for you.  And Radiohead?  There's not a single Radiohead fan who's favorite album is PabloHoney, at least not any Radiohead fan I've met.  Sure, there are some duds, Pop and Amnesiac,I'm looking at you (I'm gonna get some hatemail on that latter one).  But the point is, bands evolve their sound and make the music they want to make.  And so that is exactly what Kings have done.
It's true, the southern flair is more subtle but it is not gone.  Maybe the music has lost that intitial comfort but the lyrics are still in that mindset.  Singing about girls that are seventeen?  That's trailer park, just ask Winger.  I don't know about you but the word and song title "Revelry" screams "confederacy" to me which in turn screams "south."  Don't worry, it's still here.  What isnew and keeping with the flow established on BotT are the giant, expansive soundscapes.  Remember that first time you spun "Knocked Up" off BotT and were bombarded by...space?  Then that chorus came and punched you in the gut telling you, "Uh-huh, it is gonna be that way."  My favortie track off OBtN, "Be Somebody", has that same feel but reverersed: the verse is the violent one while the chorus let's you jump off a cliff.  When the chorus opens up and the guitar is washed in reverb and the kick is firing on all fours with not a snare in sight...well...there's few other songs that have gripped me like that in a long while.
The album opens up with "Closer", a dark sequel to BotT's ender, "Arizona."  That latter track was akin to driving towards mountains, feeling optimistic about what's on the other side.  Imagine then that you round that pass and there's dark clouds on the horizon and a sense of uneasiness.  That's how I feel when listening to "Closer."  I liken it to The Return of the King (book, not movie) when the hobbits return home all relieved only to find the shire scourged.  They just destroyed the freaking ring and now they have to fight for their homeland?  C'mon!  Fortunately, Kings don't want to fight.  They just want you to come along.  This lead's into "Crawl" which seems to be a little political.  That thumping bassline kills me everytime.  Time out to say Jared Followill is one incredible bassist.  They're all good at what they do: Caleb writes well, Nathan pounds tastefully and intricately, and Matt never once indulges in guitar wankery.  But to me, Jared really elevates a song.  Alright, time in.  Third is "Sex On Fire" which I have nothing to say about except what a driving pop song.  The closer "Cold Desert" will be one of the biggest songs you'll ever hear.  Just listen and try not to be swept away, especially by that gimmicky fade out/fade in trick near the end. 
Granted, not everyone is going to feel the same way about this album.  Not every track is a surefire winner.  Actually, only "I Want You" comes to mind, with it's never-really-going anywhere, laidback vibe.  But for all you southerners, that song sounds great to throw on while sipping some lemonade on the porch.  It's all going to come down to what you like to listen to, as all music does.  One thing I'm disappointed by is that when I was listening to the album this summer at my internship, there was another song called "New Frontier" that was included.  From what I've read, this track is now called "Frontier City" and available with the deluxe version.  Track it down cause it's a nice little gem with some fun group falsetto. 
In conclusion, love the music you love.  But you need to love Only By The Night.  If you don't, I'll grab a chorus and punch you in the gut.