My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!

Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

It doesn’t feel completely accurate to say that my wife and I like Christmas music. We freaking love it. We both come from homes that celebrated old school classics as well as newer material. As a result we have a pretty solid and impressive collection of Christmas music. In fact, we actually have an iPod dedicated specifically to Christmas music. When my wife got a new iPod, we took her old mini (which very appropriately is green), cleared out all the old stuff and loaded it up with holiday tunes. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, we pop that bad boy on and dig those tunes until Christmas. I figured it would be a good time to lay down a list of some of my favorite records to listen to around this time. Hit the jump to dig these crazy tunes. Continue reading Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

Season Finale: New Girl (My Favorite Show On TV Right Now)

I haven’t been writing as much about TV lately because, basically, I’m tired. Between work and watching our daughter all day, one of the last things I want to do is sit with my laptop and watch television. I actually forgot that I used to write about Big Bang Theory and kind of miss it, so maybe I’ll write about tonight’s episode. Anyway, my absolute favorite show of the season has to be Fox’s New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel (Jess), Max Greenfield (Schmidt), Jake M. Johnson (Nick), Lamorne Morris (Winston) and Hannah Simone (Cece). I’ve realized that almost all of my favorite comedies are based around a group of clever friends in their late 20s/early 30s. You’ve got New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory and Happy Endings in that group. I guess that’s not so surprising because shows basically revolve around work, friend groups and family groups.

It’s not a coincidence that I myself am in my late 20s/early 30s and happen to be experiencing a lot of the same things that characters on these shows are. It also helps that they’re all really, really well written. There is a distinct line though between the shoes of this ilk that I do enjoy versus the ones that I do not like (I Just Want My Pants Back might skew a little younger, but it’s just too cool for school and it’s own good as far as I’m concerned) is that the ones I like are both clever, but not overly clever and have a heart at the center of them. I don’t just like the characters on New Girl, I’m invested in them. I want Schmidt and Cece to be happy because they’re just so perfect for each other. I want the Jess/Nick relationship to be explored more because I am in love with those characters. I want Winston dig his job because I like him and want him to be successful.

I can also relate to all of these characters on a personal level. I have some of Jess’ naivete somewhere deep inside me, that desire to see the good in everyone. My wife has a professed crush on Nick and I hope it’s because we’re very similar. We’re both Midwestern guys who are at best thrifty, at worst CHEAP who try to fix everything on our own without calling for help, even when it might be detrimental to our mental (and physical well being). Nick’s a lot more crazy than me (I hope), but that’s the huge kernel of truth that are inside both of us. I can also relate to Winston’s fear of finding a job he loves after doing his dream job and essentially failing. Yeah, that’s in my wheelhouse. Schmidt might seem like a d-bag, but he’s really just a scared former fat kid who wants the world to realize how cool he is. I’ve got a bit of that ego in my too. Cece’s a little out of my wheelhouse, but she’s pretty and funny and she and Schmidt work well together, so I’m cool with her.

Okay, so on to the actual season finale. I’ve missed a few of the most recent episodes because our daughter has made Tuesdays that nights she freaks out and wakes up right after being put to bed. So, I didn’t realize that Nick was back with the ex that ruined him because I missed that part and didn’t remember what she looked like. When I did realize that, I was bummed out because don’t we all have friends who just kind of give up and go with whatever is available even when it’s not good for them? As a fan of the show, I also have that part of me that wants to see Nick and Jess together, so having Nick be with this other girl AND moving out of the apartment was kind of heartbreaking.

And it did fool me, but not at first. I figured he would wind up back at the apartment, but then the episode brought me back around to thinking that Nick really was moving out. And then BOOM, it got me! Well played, show, well played. I enjoy the show so much that, now that it’s over, I want to buy the show on DVD or see if it shows up on Netflix Instant so I can watch them all again. I think I might still want to get the DVDs though in hopes that there’s a mountain of extra features on there. I bet the outtakes, bloopers and deleted scenes are pretty damn good.

Last Week’s Shows, Today! Season Premiere Edition

As I might have mentioned–or you’ve seen over on The Monkee Diaries–we went on vacation last week. It was a great time, but we missed a few shows here and there like the season premiere of How I Met Your Mother, though I was able to check a few things out on On Demand which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, our building has super old cable wiring, so we can’t have anything digital. It makes me sad, but new TV makes me happy! There’s a lot here, so hit the jump to see it all! Continue reading Last Week’s Shows, Today! Season Premiere Edition

Rockin’ Flicks: Almost Famous (2000)

I’m not one of those dudes who had their lives changed by Almost Famous. I was friends with some of those guys in high school and in fact saw this movie over at one of their houses in high school. One friend fell in love with Kate Hudson after seeing the flick and another would incessantly sing Stillwater’s “Fever Dog.” Both were in my band. I dug the movie when I saw it, but it didn’t become a favorite.

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the movie, it’s basically Cameron Crowe’s fictionalized memoir of touring with various bands in the 70s, but centered around a young kid named William and the fictional band Stillwater. The high schooler gets the attention of Rolling Stone who sends him on tour with the band who he becomes friends with even though his mentor Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) warns him against it and also falls for groupie–sorry “Band Aid”–Penny Lane, played by Hudson. It’s basically the story of a kid learning to go from fan to pro in an industry that’s showing him all its warts, no matter how much they wound him.

I actually had more fun spotting the supporting actors in the flick than watching it. I think that’s because I’ve seen and even lived this story a bit myself. Having been a comic book fan who worked in the thick of the comic book world at Wizard, I can really relate to what William goes through (minus the groupies) but comparing a film, even a great one, to my real life, the film’s not going to hold up. I get that it’s great and I love all the rock and roll stuff, because I’m a huge fan of music from that era, but it just doesn’t vibrate inside of me like it might have when I was younger.

Anyway, back to that star watching, here’s the ones I saw. You’ve got Jimmy Fallon playing the manager’s manager. I can’t remember if I knew who he was when the movie first played. The gone-too-soon Mitch Hedberg sits in on a manager poker game! Anna Paquin and Fairuza Balk (The Craft) play groupies. Jay Baruchel is a Led Zeppelin super-fan and even Nick Swardson has a moment as a wild David Bowie fan. Heck even Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet pops up as a hotel worker. I’m sure there’s plenty I missed. Plus, of course, one of my favorites Jason Lee plays an important part. It’s funny how similar the character is to Banky from Chasing Amy, but the guy they got to play the singing voice sounds embarrassingly like someone else. Oh, this was also the first movie I saw Zooey Deschanel in and didn’t even realize it!

I think had I bought the movie after I saw it and gave it a few more spins, I would have a lot closer relationship to it, but as it stands, I can appreciate it without falling in love with it. Though, I do adore the “Tiny Dancer” bit. Moments like that in real life are amazing and should be enjoyed both in the moment and later in life. I have incredibly fond ones of singing songs with my buddies back home and even the other week when the missus and I wound up singing “Summer Loving” from Grease, even though she had to sing most of the dude parts because I only know about half the words.

My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

I actually had a pretty good time compiling last year’s list of my favorite albums of the year and figured now’s as good a time as any to get around to this year’s. The funny thing about this year is that, while I probably acquired more CDs than I have in quite a while thanks to flea markets, garage sales and sales, I didn’t actually buy a lot of new music. New to me of course, but not new new. So, with that in mind, I’ll probably do another post about my favorite new-to-me discs of the year next week. Anyway, my favorite records of the year are a mix of smokey rockers, soul sisters, pop rock stalwarts, metal dudes, collaborators, introspective song writers and more. Hit the jump for the full list! Continue reading My Favorite New Albums Of 2010

Christmas Stories: Elf (2003)

Em took yesterday and today off so we could get ready for Christmas. I really hadn’t realized that Christmas was only a week away. Luckily, we’re pretty well set up. All our presents are coming in from Amazon, most of the decorations are up and we’ve got our tree. We just need to wrap presents, decorate the tree and make the food for when the parents come. While putting lights on the tree today, we turned on Elf, which is one of my two favorite Christmas movies from the last 10 years (the other is Love Actually).

I first saw Elf in college and it really helped me get in the holiday spirit thanks to Will Ferrell’s infectious naivete and joy with all things Christmas. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it’s got Zooey Deschanel singing my favorite Christmas song of all time “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” so that helped. Christmas time during college was always a bit weird for me, you’re trying to get in the spirit and have a good time with holiday parties and what not, but then you’ve got all these exams looming over you and travel plans back home. One of my favorite parties every year was the post-exam Christmas party. Everyone, even the most intense students, seemed to just cut loose and have a good time at that one.

So, I was really glad when I saw Elf and it got me in the spirit. The story follows Ferrell, as Buddy the elf, but he’s not really an elf. He was an orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack and stowed away to the North Pole. Now, he’s 30 and discovers that he’s not actually an elf and wants to meet his dad James Caan (his mom passed away). So, Buddy heads to New York City and finds his dad married (to Mary Steenburgen) with a kid. Ed Asner plays Santa and Bob Newhart plays Buddy’s adoptive dad Papa Elf. Buddy explores NYC, meets his jerk dad who thinks he’s crazy and becomes part of dad’s family. He also falls for Zooey and they start dating. It’s all very festive and sweet. I know a lot of people are probably sick of Ferrell’s man-child routine (Step Brothers, Old School, Talladega Nights, Semi-Pro, pretty much everything he’s done, really), but it really serves this movie because he’s not playing it with any meanness or irony (like there is in Fred Claus). Buddy really is one of the happiest, nicest people you’ll ever see on screen.

I give a lot of the credit for this goodness to director Jon Favreau. The first 10-20 minutes takes places in the North Pole. There’s just such a great, fantastical consistency to the place. It feels classic and up-to-date at the same time. The difference in size between Buddy and the elves is really well done and outside, you’re treated to several claymation-like characters. Even the snowflakes look big and cut-out and fun. It’s little touches like that that really impressed me about Elf and gave me a lot of hope back when Favreau was announced as the Iron Man director and everyone was freaking out. I actually like this movie so much that it’s not filed away with all the other Christmas DVDs, it’s in the binder with the rest of my pre-moving collection (which quickly filled up once I started working 15 minutes away from a Best Buy). So there you have it, my thoughts on one of my favorite Christmas movies.