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12.31.2008

Best of 2008

I meant to post this like, two weeks ago.  Really, I did.  Josh and I have been talking about it since Thanksgiving.  So much for advanced preparation.  Anyway, here is our "Best of '08" post.


So it's the end of another year and that means it's time for the Vanishing Blog Best of 2008 Awards!  Well, I guess they're not really awards, 'cause we're not really awarding anything.  Whatever.  These are the best things of 2008 as judged by Josh and I.  Some of them are predictable, but who cares?

Josh keeps complaining about how he'll lose all his indie-cred because of our music picks, and I keep telling myself that I probably should have seen Slumdog Millionaire because critics won't shut up about it and it may very well deserve a spot on our movies list, but whatever.  We're not professional critics.  We can't listen to every album and watch every movie that comes along, nor would we want to.

As bloggers, it is our responsibility to be unprofessional so that the "real" journalists can keep their jobs.


Music of 2008

Last year we went on and on about how we at the Vanishing Blog don’t really care for most mainstream music.  Consequently, most of the albums on last year’s top 5 were from independent artists no one’s ever heard of.  In an almost complete reversal of that trend, this year we have mostly well-known artists, although some of them are indie.  However, we stand by these choices.  Good music is good music.  It doesn’t matter who produces it.  Shunning something simply because it is popular is irresponsible and just plain silly.

Top 5 Albums of 2008

5.  Fleet Foxes | Fleet Foxes

Josh says:
"Pitchfork gave this a 9.0. I’m going to lead off by saying that I was going to sarcastically quote Pitchfork’s reviews before I wrote my own review, because frankly, Pitchfork is sometimes comically awful in its reviews. However, they seem to have miraculously got this one right. Way to sink my plan, guys.

“Let me begin by saying that I really haven’t heard very many other artists like Fleet Foxes before. The instrumentation is sometimes minimal, while at other times the songs have piano, acoustic guitar, and assorted other instruments. The songs rely heavily on vocal harmonies. If I had to describe the CD, it’d be a soundtrack you’d listen to while driving through a rustic landscape. It’s a very pretty record, and the critics love it for it. I like it a lot for the same reason, but frankly, I think it’s just good music: original, fresh, and endearing. The album is often cryptic lyrically, stringing together sentences randomly, but it sounds so good that I’m willing to forgive the infrequent non-sequiturs.

“What makes the album even more impressive is the fact that they also released an EP of 5 songs, likewise awesome, early in the year. Called the Sun Giant EP, it is also definitely worth a listen.

“In short: beautiful instrumentation and beautiful vocals. I probably enjoyed this record probably the most out of any of these five, it’s just bloody fun to listen to."


4.  Beck | Modern Guilt
Hmm… How to sum this one up?  In Josh's words, "Beck's awesome."  Yeah, pretty much. In Modern Guilt Beck keeps doing what he's always done: building songs around strong beats and riffs.  Beck with the assistance of producer Danger Mouse has distilled his musical essence into this album.  The Guardian called it a "vanity project," but no.  It's just Beck doing what he does best.


3.  Edison Glass | Time is Fiction
Josh says:
"If I had three words to write this review, I would say, 'It’s rather brilliant.' That sums up quite well what I am going to say in the following paragraph. I appreciate albums that have meaning in the songs, especially when I have to work a little to get the meaning out. Time is Fiction is a little hard to access, and you may not appreciated the album if you don’t already appreciate music that doesn’t come right out and say “the point of this song is X.”

“The album opens and throttles you over the head with 'Let Go.' This is pretty much what you’ll get each time a track ends. Edison Glass cuts to the chase musically, while incorporating quite thought provoking and meaningful lyrics. The meaningful, uplifting nature of the music makes it a breath of fresh air. A lot of music today is dark, without point or purpose. Time is Fiction, not so.

“'Jean Valjean' is one of my favorite songs of the year. Its lyrics really struck a chord with me:
It's a battle between just and good
What you know is right
What you know you should
Will good overcome religion?
It's a battle between grace and pride
Will you let it go or draw the knife?
Will grace overcome what was done?
“I enjoy it and recommend you give it a shot as well."


2.  Nine Inch Nails | Ghosts I - IV
Ghosts was a surprise to everyone, including NIN fans.  Josh told me about it one day and the free download of the first 9 tracks helped convince me to buy this experimental instrumental album.

It sounds as if Trent Reznor just went into the studio and recorded whatever the heck came to his mind.  Although according to him the process when like this: "When we started working with the music, we would generally start with a sort of visual reference that we had imagined: a place, or a setting, or a situation. And then attempt to describe that with sound and texture and melody. And treat it, in a sense, as if it were a soundtrack."

The result is a musically diverse, highly original album.  The way Reznor plays around with musical ideas like a kid with ADD has roughly the same effect as classical music in that it stimulates the imagination.  Fortunately, Ghosts is much more accessible to the modern listener than classical music.  These songs will stimulate your imagination if you let them.  It's wonderful music to write to.


1.  Coldplay | Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

If you are at all shocked or surprise by this selection then you haven't been paying attention.  I mean, we warned you up front that we had some pretty mainstream picks this year.  This might be the most mainstream album release this year.  But like I said: good music is good music.

As I predicted in my "First Impressions" post, this album grew on me.  A lot.  I can now say, without question, that this is Coldplay’s best album and that’s saying a lot.  There are no bad songs on this album (although Josh disagrees: he doesn’t like “Strawberry Swing” for some reason).  Over the many times I’ve listened to it, I’ve never felt the need to skip a track.

Lyrically, musically, and artistically this album’s a winner.  Allegations of plagiarism aside, you have to give Coldplay credit for writing album after album of good, popular music that stands out amongst the throw-away tunes that play adjacent to theirs on the radio.  One day Coldplay might find themselves sweeping the streets they used to own, but right now they rule the world.  Sorry, I just had to throw that on there.  Sounded like something a proper journalist would write.


Honorable Mentions
Anberlin | New Surrender
TV on the Radio | Dear Science
The Killers | Day & Age
Portishead | Third


Song of the Year

Coldplay | Violet Hill
I asked Josh if we should each pick a song of the year.  We didn't do this last year.  I think the idea was to keep it short and sweet or something admirable like that.  But we decided to give it a go this year.  Independently of one another, we both picked Violet Hill.  That's very telling.  For most, Violet Hill was the first song they heard from Viva la Vida and contrary to most people's opinions which have shifted in favor of the title track, it still remains our favorite song from the album.

For me, it captures the revolutionary feel of the album's cover and actually gave me the complete wrong idea of what the album was going to sound like.  Lines like:
When the future's architectured by a carnival of idiots on show you'd better lie low...
perfectly describe my feeling about politics and the world in general right now.  I feel like I'm being taken for a ride.  In bailout package after bailout package my future is begin legislated away.  *sigh*  So, that's kind of a downer, but this has been a downer year with entertainment and real world news.
If you love me, won't you let me know?

Movies of 2008

2007 was an anomaly.  There was an unusually high concentration of good, fun movies to go and see.  Most of them were pretty good.  We had little trouble with a top 5 list last year.  2008 on the other hand...

Yeah, well.  Most of the movies I went to see were disappointments.  Early in the year, Cloverfield was choked by its own hype machine.  It wasn't terrible, in fact, it was fairly inventive and breathed new life into a tired old genre.  But the monster was lame, so that pretty much killed it.

Narnia... ugh.  I don't think I was harsh enough on it in my review.  I wish I hadn't seen it.

I wasn't going to see Iron Man but people raved about it, so I rented it.  Maybe it was somehow way more awesome in theatres; doubt it.  I'm not sure why everyone thought it was so good.   Downy Jr. is in his element playing a formerly drug-addled, playboy hedonist, that's true.  Maybe I just don't "get" this one.  I can't exactly tell you why I don't care for it, but Iron Man was one of the less interesting superhero movies I've seen.  Overwhelming effects; underwhelming story seems to be a common criticism of “blockbuster” movies these days, but I feel like it does truly apply to Iron Man.

Then there was... Indiana Jones 4.  I'm sure a lot of people wish this movie hadn't been made.  Josh hated it.  Particularly the line "The space between spaces..."  I could care less.  In all honesty, it was ok.  I managed to sit though it once in the theatre and once again at home.  I don't care if I never see it again, but it wasn't the abomination described by some.  People who said that are taking the series too seriously.  And look at!  It's Indiana Jones.  Do you think it's meant to be taken seriously?


Wall•E was pretty good - second best movie of the year - but that's to be expected from Pixar.

And that brings to the last movie I saw in theatres this year; the best movie I saw this year.  In fact, it was the best movie in many years and if it doesn't sweep the Academy Awards it will once and for all prove that the Academy are a bunch of head-in-the-clouds, stuck-up, artsy critics.  And that movie is... (say it with me, now): The Dark Knight.
*cue awesome music*


In recent memory, I do not recall another film that has lived up to the massive hype surrounding it like this film has.  Sure, there were critics.  Critics who said that the film took itself too seriously; that it was poorly paced; that the essential idea of a man dressing-up as a bat to fight crime is moronic; that the Joker was too powerful and omnipotent.  There will always be those critics.  Killjoys.

However, this is not their list.  This is our list.  And Josh and I agree that The Dark Knight is, by far, the best film of the year.  In fact, it is the best film in recent memory.  Since its release, I have seen it five times and I’m still excited about watching it again.  I do not recall another movie I have liked as much.

To sum-up: The Dark Knight was awesome.  Everything else kinda stunk.  Except Wall-E.  That was good.  But, yeah, everything else.  Iron Man wasn't as good as advertised.  Indiana Jones 4 proved the critics right.
Don't even get me started on Narnia...

Let us hope for better movies this year.  Yeah, right.




Games of 2008


A new category for this year.  Yes, Josh and I are gamers.  And despite what certain politicians, professors, and doctors would have you believe, video games are not blood-soaked murder simulators.  Games are art just as much as music and film.  In fact, being an interactive medium, they can be even more personal than other forms of art.  These are the top 3 games of 2008: the most engaging; the most artistic; the most fun.

Top 3 Games of 2008

3. Left 4 Dead
On the surface, Valve’s zombie shooter looks much like any other horror game and had it been I wouldn’t have played it.  I certainly don’t go for zombies, blood & guts, or horror.  What intrigued me about L4D was its co-op gameplay.  It forces four players to work together to survive.  With online multiplayer becoming a more eminent component of games, it’s nice to see a game that’s built around the idea of a co-op campaign.  It’s short, but quite repayable due to some good AI, variable difficulties, and different modes of gameplay.

2. World of Goo
Of our top 3 games, this is by far the most accessible.  Everyone can and should play this game, even if you don’t normally play games.  It’s inventive, fun and stimulating.  Its 2008’s Portal.  Play it.  See my video review for more info.

1. Fallout 3
Fallout 3 is an epic game of choices.  This pseudo-FPS RPG features a very immersive world, tons of characters and quests, and one of the best morality systems I’ve ever seen in a game.  To top it all off, the game is HUGE.  You could probably breeze through the main storyline in around 20 to 30 hours, but you won’t.  You’ll almost certainly get caught up in exploring this post-apocalyptic world though if you want to see everything you’ll probably spend a good 150+ hours on this game.  It’s that big.
Fallout 3 is not for everyone.  It certainly warrants the “M” rating for the unfortunate frequency of gore and language.  Plus, the atmosphere of the game can feel overwhelmingly brooding.  You are, after all, wandering around the ruins of Washington D.C.  Still, if you can get past these elements, you’ll discover an incredibly fun game that really makes you think about your actions.  That is all too rare in games these days.


That's all folks!  Let's do this again next year, ok?

12.18.2008

Genres>>Vol. 1>>Post-Rock

I think, in order to get myself to post regularly over the course of next semester, I’m going to do brief posts on different types of music that I’m enjoying at the moment. Not that this is going to blow anyone’s mind, or that I’m going to drastically affect anyone’s tastes, but it will make me feel good, and it shall get me to post more frequently than never (hopefully).

For this first post, I thought I’d explore a genre that I really really like quite a lot. That is, as is evident by the title, Post-Rock. The very term “post-rock” kind of has this rather large debate surrounding it. It’s like bands being defined as emo: practically every other band earns that distinction from someone. Often the bands that are most often thought of as post-rock reject that definition for their music. To keep things simple, for the purposes of this post I will define post-rock as an instrumental genre with little to no sung lyrics, usually guitar and drum based. It’s a bit more than that, though. It’s rather hard to nail down exactly the sound of the genre, even when you’ve given it a good listen (as I have).

My whole experience with post-rock started when I saw the band Explosions In the Sky in a web comic. I looked them up on iTunes, Last.fm, Pandora, and loved it. The whole “no lyrics” thing was kind of a new experience for me. I listened to Explosions when I wrote. One shortfall of their albums was that there were very few songs that I would listen to just for the sake of listening to music. Their music was more for when I needed to concentrate.

The next band I hit up was Do Make Say Think (Last.fm). A friend recommended them. I liked them. A lot. The easiest way to describe their music is softer rock overlaid on top of ambient sounds. It's nice music as well. However, again, I don't really listen to them for the sake of listening to them. I have to be a particular mood.

Then came pretty much one of my new favorite bands. To understand that label, you must realize that the award of Joshua's favorite band cycles around every couple of weeks; however, in order to earn that label, the music must be pretty friggin' incredible (if you will pardon the expression).

I present to you God Is an Astronaut. I pretty much discovered this band on a thread about awesome post-rock. There are very few albums that I like every song on. Even Viva La Vida has a song that I don't like (Strawberry Swing), and almost every album has songs that are weaker in some form or fashion than the other songs on the record.

However, All is Violent, All is Bright, which is God Is an Astronaut's 2003 release, doesn't have a weak song. I've listened to the album around 6 or 7 times straight through, with only some pauses for other music. But, really, it's an incredible album and I think a great introduction to the genre.

//plug for awesome band

Anyhow, give it a listen at least. Maybe buy it. But whatever you do, enjoy.

Other Post-Rock worth mentioning: Sigur Ros (who will be getting their own post, just because they're uber-awesome), Caspian, Mono, This Will Destroy You, and Ef.

12.17.2008

You know I could use somebody.

Hello, again. My name is Joshua. Some of you might remember me.

Now Playing: Use Somebody by Kings of Leon.

Last Movie Watched: The Prestige.

Currently Reading: Let Them In.

It has been a great deal of time since I’ve posted anything meaningful to the blog, and other than the odd recommendation to listen to this song or watch that video, I’ve been silent for the greater part of the latter half of 2008. There are a number of reasonable explanations for this, mainly the fact that school has taken up most of my time over the past 4 months, but I won’t bore you with the trivial details.

The year 2008 was a fairly good one for me. As years go, I think this has been one of my favourites. There were some bitter moments and some major disappointments. There has been sadness, and hurt, and heartache. But as I grow older (unwillingly, of course), I find that the sad serves to make the happy more appreciated, and in many ways, this seems to be sadness’s primary function. So instead of listing the sad parts of this year, I’m going to focus on the happy points. These are listed in the order I thought of them.

1. I graduated. I found out this merely leads to another phase of schooling, but for a couple of months there, the feeling was euphoric.

2. I’ve made a lot of new friends at college…and speaking of which, the whole college experience has been pretty dang awesome.

3. I had a last hurrah with my friends at home, only to find out (wonderfully) that there really isn’t a last hurrah for very good friends.

4. Parties, parties, parties!

5. A couple friends are getting married (you know who you are). According to Emily Post, you should not tell engaged persons “congratulations” as it imparts an impression that you were not expecting them to ever be able to find a spouse, so, “Best wishes.”

6. I got a lot closer to friends.

7. The music that I got in 2008 all makes me very happy. Bands (for me) that I’ve fallen rather in love with: Anathallo, Anberlin (all over again), Coldplay (all over again), The Dears, Deas Vail, Death Cab for Cutie (this entry is actually a little untrue, because I’ve know of Death Cab for a long time, but I always disliked the voice of the singer in the past), Editors, The Hives, House of Heroes, Jonezetta, The Killers (all over again), Kings of Leon, MGMT, Pedro the Lion, and TV on the Radio. That’s just some of them.

8. Being home again.

It’s a rather short list, to be sure, but it’s all I have time for right now. And the list seems to be nice being 8 points long, as it is the year ’08.

12.12.2008

We are humanity.

I'm not quite sure what this video means exactly, but I have a pretty good idea. It is very beautiful and meaningful to me, so I thought I'd share with you. Enjoy--it is a bit long, but it's worth it.