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The Best and Blursts of 2009
01/06/10 at 12:38 PM by thespungo
The year in music for 2009 was, for the most part, a slight improvement over the previous year's poor musical offerings. In 2008, I struggled to name 5 top albums, while easily naming the top 10 worst. This year, to it's credit, I was able to name a few more of the good while still acknowledging the bad and the overarching trend of the past few years -- music is not good anymore.

The highlight from last year, Driver F's Chase the White Whale, turned out to be one of the best of the decade. This year, the top four should hold up in the long term, as well, but all other albums are very hit or miss with the focus seemingly shifting towards memorable singles rather than memorable albums. Bands as horrible as Weezer proved that point, with New Found Glory and NOFX going one and out, as well.

Forming out of the breakup of the Format, Nate Reuss' new band fun. showcased what the possible next Format record could have sounded like. While Aim and Ignite is an amazing fun. album, I would have found it to be an inferior Format record. I like to think of the Format as a good indie/pop band with some darker/heavier guitar elements. Sure, they traded it in for a poppier sound on 2006's Dog Problems, but I think they maintained enough of those heavy riffs to still be the Format. fun., however, explored even further the ultra-poppy side that Dog Problems introduced and it worked tremendously. While I would have preferred a darker Format record, Aim and Ignite was very f-, uh... enjoyable, and will definitely have a long lasting tenure in my musical library.

The exact opposite occurrence took place on Sherwood's new album, QU, with delightful results. The California-based band released their first full-length, 2005's Sing, But Keep Going,that featured a catchy indie/rawk sound, but then went for a big pop sound on 2007's A Different Light. They came back this year with a fall release of QU, which showcased a toned down, more rawk-based album. If QU had proceeded Sing, But Keep Going, it would have been hailed as a great natural progression that didn't stray too far from the previous effort but delivered new and exciting sounds. The problem for me, however, was I loved A Different Light. Loved it. So when QU dropped, I hated it. I wanted a summery, fun record from my favorite summery, fun band. But over the next month, the album grew on me. The weather changed and so did my perception of the record. I love it, now. Love it.

Following in the footsteps of Less Than Jake's 2008 ultimate let down album, GNV FLA, Relient K released Forget and Not Slow Down in 2009. Less Than Jake and Relient K are perpetually alternating spots as my #1 and #2 favorite bands of all-time. They've released so many good albums in a row, for so long, you expect perfection each year -- this is not fair, and I know that. I need to be realistic and not put so much pressure on each album, I know that. It's just that every album they've previously released is great, why would it stop now? Well it's stopped... for now. The album appears on the best and worst lists, because while I don't hate it, it's just not what I was expecting or really even wanted. Forget and Not Slow Down was probably a record they wanted to make for a while. It's got an entirely different feel, it was recorded differently, the themes are different, all signs point to the band wanting a change of pace. It's been over ten years, they deserve to try something different -- it's fair, and I know that. I just, for the life of me, cannot love it... and I regret that.

Best Albums:
  1. fun. Aim and Ignite
  2. Sherwood QU
  3. Coconut Records Davy
  4. Single File Common Struggles
  5. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
  6. Andrew Dost Columbus
  7. Bomb the Music Industry! Scrambles
  8. Relient K Forget and Not Slow Down
Worst Albums:
  1. Weezer Raditude
  2. Say Anything Say Anything
  3. Cobra Starship Hot Mess
  4. Reel Big Fish Fame, Fortune, and Fornication
  5. Brand New Daisy
  6. Cartel Cycles
  7. Dashboard Confessional Alter the Ending
  8. New Found Glory Not Without a Fight
  9. Green Day 21st Century Breakdown
  10. Relient K Forget and Not Slow Down

While complete albums were a tad scarce, there was no shortage of quality singles. The top spot goes to "Benson Hedges", thanks in most part to the driving verse that kick starts the song just past the one minute mark. I'm a sucker for fast, repeating piano notes, and this song utilizes them well.

"Mannequin Loveseat" is probably the catchiest song of the year and features, what else, quick repeating piano notes -- ho yeah! Arguably one of Single File's catchiest songs, "Zombies Ate My Neighbors", was also released this year on Common Struggles, but didn't make the list because that song has been re-released and re-done in just about every one of their recording sessions and on their latest EP from 2007 -- if it were to be included in this list, it would undoubtedly be #1.

One of the best moments from 2009 happens in "Maybe This Time". The song builds and builds, up until it's exploding point at the 2:10 mark with some wonderful lyrics and a great section of gang vocals. This epic section will no doubt hold up as one of Sherwood's finest.

Best Songs:
  1. fun. - "Benson Hedges"
  2. Single File - "Mannequin Loveseat"
  3. Sherwood - "Maybe This Time"
  4. Phoenix - "1901"
  5. Bomb the Music Industry! - "25!"
  6. Sherwood - "Shelter"
  7. fun. - "Be Calm"
  8. Phoenix - "Lisztomania"
  9. fun. - "All the Pretty Girls (On a Saturday Night)"
  10. Sherwood - "Hit the Bottom"
  11. Relient K - "Forget and Now Slow Down"
  12. Sherwood - "Ground Beneath My Feet"
  13. XO - "Blizzard (New York)"
  14. Sherwood - "Around You"
  15. Coconut Records - "Any Fun"
  16. Single File - "Girlfriends"
  17. Coconut Records - "Wires"
  18. Sherwood - "Not Gonna Love"
  19. fun. - "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)"
  20. NOFX - "We Called It America"

Best New Band (I'd Never Heard):
  1. fun.
  2. Phoenix
  3. We are the Union
  4. Cruiserweight
  5. Andrew Jackson Jihad
Best Musical Album Based on the Journey of Christopher Columbus:
  1. Andrew Dost Columbus
  2. Green Day 21st Century Breakdown
Best Album Cover:
  1. Relient K Forget and Not Slow Down
  2. Bomb the Music Industry! Scrambles
  3. Brand New Daisy
  4. Coconut Records Davy
  5. Sherwood QU
Best Continued Downward Creative Spiral:
  1. Weezer
  2. Reel Big Fish
  3. Say Anything
  4. New Found Glory

While not technically the end of the decade, it's the end of the Aughts -- isn't that enough for you people to review the music of the past ten years?

These past ten years were easily the most important to me as a music/sound enthusiast. At the beginning of this decade, I was entering the second semester of my sophomore year of high school. In Sink and the Backstreet Guys were dominating the MTV airwaves, the main source of my music listening (viewing) since elementary school and middle school, so I was forced to begin the daunting task of purchasing music on my own if I were to continue to participate in American musical culture.

My first ever cd purchase was at the Media Play, over by Southwest Plaza, in the futuristic year 2000. I (my mother) bought Blink 182's Enema of the State, the Offpsring's Americana, and the South Park film soundtrack. My first indie-store purchase took place that October, when my family and I traveled to Twist and Shout to buy, with a birthday gift certificate, Mustard Plug's Pray for Mojo, Less Than Jake's Pezcore, and the Gamits' Endorsed By You.

Best Albums of the Decade:
  1. Less Than Jake Borders and Boundaries (2000)
  2. The Gamits Endorsed By You (2000)
  3. Driver F Chase the White Whale (2008)
  4. the Format Dog Problems (2006)
  5. Relient K Two Lefts Don't Make a Right... But Three Do (2003)
  6. Yellowcard One for the Kids (2001)
  7. The Gamits Antidote (2004)
  8. Sherwood A Different Light (2007)
  9. Relient K Anatomy of the Tongue In Cheek (2001)
  10. Cake Comfort Eagle (2001)
  11. Midtown Living Well Is the Best Revenge (2002)
  12. Blink-182 Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (2001)
  13. Motion City Soundtrack Commit This to Memory (2005)
  14. Sherwood Sing, But Keep Going (2005)
  15. Ben Folds Rockin' the Suburbs (2001)
  16. Ozma Rock and Roll Part Three (2001)
  17. Something Corporate Leaving Through the Window (2002)
  18. Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer Jalopy Go Far (2003)
  19. Jimmy Eat World Bleed American (2001)
  20. The Format Interventions + Lullabies(2004)
  21. New Found Glory Sticks and Stones (2002)
  22. MxPx The Ever Passing Moment (2000)
  23. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Take a Break (2003)
  24. Punchline 37 Everywhere (2006)
  25. Say Anything ...Is a Real Boy (2004)
  26. OzmaSpending Time on the Borderline (2003)
  27. The Aquabats Myths, Legends, and Other Amazing Adventures Vol. 2 (2000)
  28. Relient K Relient K (2000)
  29. Suburban Legends Rump Shaker (2003)
  30. The Starting Line Say It Like You Mean It (2002)
  31. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Blow In the Wind (2001)
  32. Yellow Second Still Small (2002)
  33. Relient K Mmhmm (2004)
  34. Socratic Lunch for the Sky (2005)
  35. Five Iron Frenzy Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo (2001)

Best Songs of the Decade:
  1. The Gamits - "Last of the Mullets" (2000)
  2. Less Than Jake - "Malt Liquor Tastes Better When You've Got Problems" (2000)
  3. Jimmy Eat World - "A Praise Chorus" (2001)
  4. Sherwood - "Middle of the Night" (2007)
  5. The Format - "She Doesn't Get It" (2006)
  6. Dashboard Confessional - "Hands Down" (2003)
  7. Jimmy Eat World - "Sweetness" (2001)
  8. Less Than Jake - "Pete Jackson Is Getting Married" (2000)
  9. Relient K - "Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry" (2003)
  10. Cake - "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" (2001)
  11. Jimmy Eat World - "The Middle" (2001)
  12. Less Than Jake - "Look What Happened" (2000)
  13. The Starting Line - "The Best of Me" (2002)
  14. Ozma - "In Search of 1988" (2001)
  15. The Gamits - "Dotted Lines" (2004)
  16. Driver F - "Two Words, Mr. President: Plausible Deniability" (2008)
  17. Ben Folds - "Annie Waits" (2001)
  18. Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer - "Moment" (2003)
  19. New Found Glory - "Hit or Miss" (2000)
  20. Midtown - "Just Rock and Roll" (2000)
  21. Single File - "Velcro" (2007)
  22. Relient K - "Hello McFly" (2000)
  23. Jimmy Eat World - "Big Casino" (2007)
  24. Something Corporate - "21 and Invincible" (2003)
  25. Fountains of Wayne - "Stacy's Mom" (2003)
  26. Motion City Soundtrack - "Everything Is Alright" (2005)
  27. Midtown - "Become What You Hate" (2002)
  28. Ozma - "Rocks" (2001)
  29. Houston Calls - "Exit, Emergency" (2005)
  30. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - "Goodbye Earl" (2006)
  31. Driver F - "Temple of Doom" (2008)
  32. Jimmy Eat World - "The World You Love" (2004)
  33. The Format - "Oceans" (2006)
  34. The Hippos - "Your Time Has Come" (2003)
  35. SR-71 - "Right Now" (2000)
  36. Say Anything - "Alive With the Glory of Love" (2004)
  37. Relient K - "Pressing On" (2001)
  38. Single File - "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" (2007)
  39. The Format - "Time Bomb" (2006)
  40. Less Than Jake - "Suburban Myth" (2000)
Honorable Mention:
  • Ben Folds - "Zak and Sara" (2001)
  • Driver F - "I Have Better Things to Do Tonight Than Die" (2006)
  • Driver F - "Red Light/Green Light" (2006)
  • Driver F - "Remember When That Train Wrecked Our Lifestyle" (2008)
  • The Format - "The First Single" (2004)
  • The Gamits - "Beach Boy" (2001)
  • The Gamits - "No Fun at All" (2001)
  • The Gamits - "Don't Make Me Show You" (2001)
  • The Gamits - "Bridges" (2004)
  • The Get Up Kids - "The One You Want" (2004)
  • Midtown - "Still Trying" (2002)
  • Relient K - "Down In Flames" (2001)
  • Relient K - "Jefferson Aero Plane" (2003)
  • Say Anything - "Belt" (2004)
  • Say Anything - "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" (2006)
  • Sherwood - "The Town That You Live In" (2005)
  • Sherwood - "A Different Light" (2007)
  • Something Corporate - "Drunk Girl" (2002)
  • Suburban Legends - "I Want More" (2002)
  • Weezer - "Photograph" (2001)
  • Yellowcard - "For Pete's Sake" (2001)
  • Yellowcard - "Big Apple Heartbreak" (2001)
  • Yellowcard - "October Nights" (2001)
  • Yellowcard - "Underdog" (2002)
  • Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer - "Super OK" (2003)
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The Best and Blursts of 2008: Video
12/18/08 at 01:51 AM by thespungo
Being that I was born with the heart of a film major, a public movie theater is not an easy place for me to be. When watching a film, I want to see it, hear it, feel it, study it, and just get all up in that thang. And with people around me loudly eating popcorn, playing on their cellphone, holding conversations, and just generally not paying attention and completely disrespecting the writers, actors, and director who worked so hard on that film -- I have a hard time enjoying myself. So to suffice, I don't see a lot of movies in theaters.

I say this because there may be several films not featured on the following lists that might be deserving, as I haven't yet seen Milk, W., Burn After Reading, Iron Man, or Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Best Films:
  1. The Dark Knight At the risk of sounding like all the other 14-year-olds this year, this is now probably my favorite film of all time. Christopher Nolan is the best writer/director working right now and Christian Bale the best actor -- every time these two have been paired an amazing movie has been produced. Add in the complexities of the emotions and themes dealt with in the movie's story, as well as the best supporting acting performance in decades from Heath Ledger, and you get a film that transcends it's intended genre to create a real movie about real people and real problems.

    Before I start to weep, here's my Facebook movie review from earlier this year:
    "This film is, simply put, the apex of human accomplishment. Not only is it the best piece of cinema that was ever created by Earth beings, it is the greatest 'thing' ever, be it inanimate, animate, or Pixar animated. This film was so magical and wonderful, over the course of the 2 hours and 30 minutes I spent in the theater, the following occurred: - I had six seizures - The front half of the theater engaged in a choreographed line dance - Kady's head exploded in three separate instances - The man sitting next to Kady and myself proposed to the both of us twelve times - I soiled one pair of pants, as well as the five pairs brought as back-ups - I passed out towards the end of the credits, and when I woke up, I had been elected to the Colorado House of Representatives"
  2. Cloverfield The most creative and entertaining television show I've ever been obsessed with is Lost, which is the brainchild of JJ Abrams, who is also the driving force behind Cloverfield, the most creative and entertaining film I've seen in years. The story and character development is lacking (for those who had seen only the movie -- those who got involved with the film's pre-release internet marketing know the details below the surface) but that's kind of the point -- this was a film that's point was to provide thrills and action. I don't think I've ever walked out of a theater with a singular reaction -- "Whoooooooaaaaa".
  3. Pineapple Express
  4. Vantage Point
  5. 21

Worst Films:
  1. The Love Guru If Mike Myers actually believed in this film then that's one thing, but if he did this for purely economic reasons that's another. But no matter the choice, we were left with a movie that mainly consisted of a handful of unfunny running jokes, an unusual staple for a Myers film. Ditching the more rapid fire, get-as-many-jokes-in-as-possible style of his previous character-driven movies, Myers instead kept beating the same jokes into the ground to the point where it just flat out made me uncomfortable. I was looking forward to this a great deal, but luckily I saw the trailer before the film so I was able to quickly and wisely temper my expectations.
  2. Hancock My Facebook movie review from earlier in the year puts it pretty clearly:
    "Hancock -- The Movie That Almost Was. The whole thing felt like an hour and a half long trailer. The movie lacked the basics: a beginning/middle/end, a conflict, and even a villain. The entire film was basically just a montage of various CGI effects, with little to no story in between."
    It's amazing in this day and age what passes as entertainment. I suppose the average cinema-goer can't walk out of a film and explain to you the basics like what the conflict was, or where the second and third acts came in, though, so to them this movie was a big success. And that is only further evidenced by the massive amount of money this movie made. I guess what bugs me about this is that I was tricked. Tricked into thinking I was paying to see an actual, literal film, with all the simple elements that constitute a film.
  3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Yet another film I was highly anticipating, only to be let down and, exclusive to this film, have my childhood memories of the dear Indiana Jones trilogy forever attached to a malformed, inbred brother. Here's my Facebook review of the film from earlier this year:
    "Indiana Jones and the Search for More Money" That was the working title for this movie, up until they threw in all that stuff about aliens at the last minute and re-named it "Kingdom of the Crystal Meth" or whatever it was. To tell you the truth, I can't remember much about the movie because, to me, this movie never came out, I never saw it, and it never tarnished the trilogy. After hearing George Lucas say the movie would hearken back to the days of the trilogy and their sparse use of CGI special effects, I was surprised! Then I went and saw the movie, and I was surprised! Roughly 100% of that movie was comprised of CGI special effects. In fact, I have a hunch that some of Harrison Ford's scenes were shot with him at home in bed, then he was superimposed onto the back of a Jeep fighting Russians in South America. It reminds me of the old Hollywood adage -- when the story lacks, special effacts! So, the movie was fake, Kady had no opinion, the 11 year olds in the audience loved it, and I'm wiping it from my memory. Sounds like my trip to go see "Big Momma's House 2".
    While it had it's fun moments, yes, the one thing everyone except the studios can agree on is this film did not need to be made. Much in the way I tend to ignore Back to the Future III, I will move forward with my life and appreciate the Indiana Jones series as the trilogy it is.
  4. The Happening With such a clever title, you'd think a thing or two would actually happen in the movie. I looked forward to this somewhat, hoping that Shyamalan would recapture some of his early glory, however deep inside I knew 'twas not smart to get too excited -- I was correct. We waited, and waited, and waited until the middle of the film when I suddenly realized we were sitting in a theater watching a movie about characters who were also waiting for things to happen. In the end, nothing really happened to either audience or characters -- except they got paid and I was out eight bucks.
  5. Quantum of Solace
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The Bests and Blursts of 2008: Audio
12/17/08 at 03:57 AM by thespungo
The past year provided more kicks to the groin than parties to the ears, following closely on the heels of the rash of poor releases towards the end of 2007.

With the big disappointments from Jack's Mannequin, Less Than Jake, Weezer, the Hush Sound, Fall Out Boy, Socratic, and Ben Folds, there were so few albums to be considered for the best of the year that I had to include two releases that could almost be considered re-issues as the majority of each were old and previously un-released tunes. The theme for this year seemed to be 'Hit or Miss', as most releases had a few great songs amidst a generally poor album.

The hardest album to swallow this year was Less Than Jake's GNV FLA. It certainly wasn't the worst release of the year, but was the biggest disappointment for me personally because I consider Less Than Jake to be one of my two favorite bands of all-time and their albums have all been very, very consistently good, so for them to release something I do not care for is an experience I've never had.

The standout this year, by far, is Driver F's Chase the White Whale. The band is relatively new, only releasing an EP in 2006 before this year's debut full-length. Not only is this the best release of the year, it's definitely one of the most creative and well-crafted indie/punk albums of the past decade, with a brand new sound unlike any other seen in the genre.

Best Albums:
  1. Driver F Chase the White Whale
  2. The JV Allstars Take Me Back to Spectre
  3. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Have Another Ball
  4. Relient K The Bird and the Bee Sides
  5. Millencolin Machine 15
Worst Albums:
  1. Suburban Legends Let's Be Friends... And Slay the Dragon Together
  2. Weezer The Red Album
  3. Jack's Mannequin The Glass Passenger
  4. The Hush Sound Goodbye Blues
  5. Fall Out Boy Folie a Deux
  6. Houston Calls The End of an Error
  7. Socratic Spread the Rumors
  8. I'm From Barcelona Who Killed Harry Houdini?
  9. Brave Saint Saturn Anti-Meridian
  10. The All-American Rejects When the World Comes Down
If there were no self-imposed regulations, every winner of 'Best Song' would be Driver F -- their debut LP is simply incredible and I'd rate every song from that release better than the best song from any other release this year. So for the sake of spreading it all around, I'll only pick my two favorite Driver F songs and try to highlight some of the other standout tracks from 2008.

Best Songs:
  1. Driver F - "Two Words, Mr. President: Plausible Deniability"
  2. Driver F - "Bury Me with My Money"
  3. Valencia - "Where Did You Go?"
  4. The JV Allstars - "I'm an Obtuse Man, So I'll Try to Be Oblique"
  5. Ninja Gun - "Darwin Was a Baptist"
  6. Relient K - "Here I Go (Demo)"
  7. Punchline - "Somewhere In the Dark"
  8. She & Him - "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
  9. Fall Out Boy - "20 Dollar Nose Bleed"
  10. Weezer - "Pork and Beans"
  11. Millencolin - "Detox"
Best New Band (I'd Never Heard):
  1. Driver F
  2. Never Heard of It
  3. Steel Train
  4. You, Me, and Everyone We Know
  5. Valencia
Best Album Cover:
  1. Driver F Chase the White Whale
  2. Jack's Mannequin The Glass Passenger
  3. Ninja Gun Restless Rubes
  4. Weezer The Red Album
  5. Panic! At the Disco Pretty. Odd.
Since 2008 was one of the weaker musical years in recent memory, I thought it'd be interesting to take a look back ten years and see what 1998 had to offer. What I found, conversely, is that year was one of the best years for music -- two of my top 15 albums of all time were released in 1998, while several others would place in my top 50. Although released two years before my freshman year, the best albums of 1998 would later become bedrocks of my high school listening experience.

Best Albums (of 1998):
  1. Less Than Jake Hello Rockview
  2. Reel Big Fish Why Do They Rock So Hard?
  3. Catch 22 Keasbey Nights
  4. The Living End The Living End
  5. MxPx Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo
  6. Five Iron Frenzy Quantity Is Job 1 EP
Best Songs (of 1998):
  1. Less Than Jake - "History of a Boring Town"
  2. Reel Big Fish - "She's Famous Now"
  3. Less Than Jake - "All My Best Friends Are Metalheads"
  4. Less Than Jake - "Scott Farcas Takes It on the Chin"
  5. Catch 22 - "Keasbey Nights"
  6. The Gamits - "Run Along"
  7. Reel Big Fish - "Brand New Song"
  8. Catch 22 - "1234 1234"
  9. The Living End - "Growing Up (Falling Down)"
  10. Mad Caddies - "Macho Nachos"
  11. MxPx - "Set the Record Straight"
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