Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Best Albums of 2006

2006 was a great year for music fans. Great artists like TV on the Radio, Joanna Newsom and Belle & Sebastian all made this year one to remember. Here's a list of the five best albums of 2006.

1. Joanna Newsom - Ys
Joanna Newsome followed up her gorgeously melodic Milk-Eyed Mender with Ys, an album packed with enough strings and harp to satisfy the most jaded of non-folkies.

2. TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
Following up their previous album with a funk rock masterpiece that proves these guys have more than just the best afros in the business.

3. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Dan Bejar's genius knows no bounds. Being a member of the New Pornographers, he knows how to write a good pop song. With his side projec/solo effort, Destroyer, he gets a chance to flex his eccentric creative muscles, and Rubies is Bejar at his best.

4. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke is no stranger to making award-winning electronic music. WIth his first solo effort, Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich crafted one of the best examples in minimalist production of the past decade.

5. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
These veteran indie popsters know full well how to make a great album, but this is the first time in a long time that they've matched the beauty and grandiosity of 1996's If You're Feeling Sinister.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ann Coulter, you are a racist.

Since I started my internship at The Freeman, I've had the opportunity (ie: I was forced) to read through a couple of Ann Coulter's columns. Coulter's most recent column embraces US Airways for kicking six imams from a flight to Phoenix because witnesses said the imams were chanting "Allah, Allah, Allah" in the terminal before boarding.

I'll admit that if I was in that situation I'd be pretty freaked out. I'm not disagreeing with US Airways' suspicion. I am disagreeing, however, with their decision to bar the imams from their flight and, especially, with Coulter's blatently racist approach in her article.

"If only we could get Muslims to boycott all airlines, we could dispense with airport security altogether," says Coulter in the second sentence of her article. I had to do a double take when I first read that sentence. Just because Coulter is a good writer (I cannot deny that) does not mean that she has the write to print absurdly racist remarks such as this.

"One of the stunt-imams in US Airways' advertising scheme, Omar Shahin, complained about being removed from the plane, saying: 'Six scholars in handcuffs. It's terrible.'

Yes, especially when there was a whole conference of them! Six out of 150 is called "poor law enforcement." How did the other 144 "scholars" get off so easy?"

Wow. I'm really at a loss for words as to how to respond to such ignorance. Read the column here ( and decide for yourself what to make of this pile of bigotry.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Will becoming a journalist destroy my chances of success?

I recently started an internship at the Waukesha daily newspaper, The Freeman, as a copy editor (very exciting, I know). Realizing that this is an excellent opportunity for someone going into the field of journalism, I can't complain too much about how it's been going.

For the most part, I sit around for hours editing dummy pages for grammar and style errors and sifting through the minutia that comprises the bulk of a daily newspaper. Every now and then an interesting story will come my way, and I might even find a few errors that need correcting, but, for the most part, it's actually quite boring. This does not bother me. Such is the life of a lowly intern.

What does bother me is that fact that nearly every employee at The Freeman within a desk's radius from me frequently ask, "Are you sure you want to go into journalism? It's not too late to change your mind."

Actually, yes. It is too late for me to change my mind. Maybe I didn't realize it until recently, but a $25,000 a year salary may seem decent to a poor college student, but it really isn't much money at all when you're pouring 50+ hours a week into your job, especially for such a specialized field. Anyone can learn to crunch numbers if they show enough interest, but not everyone can write well, let alone come up with a semi-creative thought to write about.

So why is it that a good journalist writing for one of the biggest papers in the country can only look forward to making $45-$60k a year? I honestly don't know the answer, but it's one of the reasons why I'm probably not going to be pursuing any job opportunities within print journalism, the major I'm paying $10,000 a year for.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Michael Jackson is still cool with me

Michael Jackson has become somewhat of a taboo subject ever since he was accused of child molestation a while back. People seem to have forgotten the days when the King of Pop dominated nearly every facet of their daily lives: radio, TV, advertisements, etc.

I admit that, for a while, I harbored some less-than-cordial feelings towards Michael when he got off scot-free in his trial, but I figure there's nothing anyone can really do about it now.

My interest was peaked recently when I read that Michael will be performing Thriller to a live audience in Britain, where he will receive the Diamond award, which is an award given to artists who sell more than 100 MILLION ALBUMS... that's a lot of albums. Let's take a short look at the album in discussion: Thriller.

  • "Thriller"
  • "Beat It"
  • "Billie Jean"
Think about that. Three of the greatest pop songs of all time snugly nestled one after another on one album. Forget "Wacko Jacko" for a second, and remember when you were a kid singing along to these songs. This is pre-"Free Willy" Michael at his best. It is not only the best selling album of all time, but one of the greatest albums ever made.

Don't worry, Michael. I still dig you.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Roling Stone, whither hast thou wandered?

The past five years have proved to be quite tumultuous for Rolling Stone, one of the most respected music publications in the world, when compared to its often romanticized past. The magazine had been giving increasingly good reviews to increasingly bad musicians. Mariah Carey? "SHE'S GREAT!" says the Stone. Um... sure, guys.

Recently, Rolling Stone reviewed the new album by folk-songstress Joanna Newsom, entitled Ys. To be blunt, this record is incredible, full of sweeping orchestral gestures and flourishes of brilliant songcraft. However, Rolling Stone music critic Christian Hoard seems to disagree, calling the album:
  • Meandering; dude... IT'S A FOLK RECORD! Of course it's going to meander a bit.
  • He calls it an EP; OK, now this is just unacceptable. Yeah, the album only has five songs, which is typical for an EP. However, EPs usually don't have a running time of over 50 minutes. Have you even listened to this album, bro? This is ridiculous coming from a magazine as reputable as Rolling Stone. Lots of ticked-off fans have already posted on the website pointing out the inaccuracy.

I've had enough. Don't you dare dis Joanna again, got it, Christian? Just look at that face!

-Mike Affholder

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Coming to terms with The Killers

I realized something the other day when I was sitting in the Leader office listening to the new Killers CD: I'm really not ashamed to admit that I like the Killers.

Living with one of the biggest music snobs around, it isn't easy to admit liking a band that is often hated by music purists. OK, sure, so they may be right about some things:

  • Yeah, lead singer Brandon Flowers does rip off Robert Smith of the Cure sometimes
  • Ok, so they did claim that their new album was inspired by Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, a sacrelidge to any and all Springsteen fans, as no one can be better than the Boss.
  • Finally, I admit that the album title Sam's Town does really suck.

But these are all minor complaints. The Killers are a great band, and I dont' care who I say it to! Just because the uber-elitist website Pitchfork Media doesn't give them a good album review doesn't mean that I have to believe them. I like them because they are fun to listen to, and that's all.

My name is Mike, and I'm a Killers fan.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

column one

A popular riddle that is often posed upon and ferociously discussed amongst various circles of rock snobs and critics is the age-old question as to whether or not rock ‘n’ roll truly is dead. The answer, despite continual debate and verbal glove-slapping between the aforementioned parties, is no. Rock ‘n’ roll is not dead; it’s just getting really, really old. A more sensible question to mull over is whether or not aging rockers should give up and call it quits by the time they’re slamming warm milk before bed instead of liquor, and popping Viagra instead of amphetamines. Can you really put an expiration date on cool?
The idea of crotchety old men prancing around a stage and rocking out to songs that were popular 40 years ago isn’t exactly appealing to younger generations, but true art never shows its wrinkles. The Rolling Stones are case-in-point here. These guys have been rocking for over four decades! Mick Jagger (arguably the coolest old guy ever) is in his 60s, but he still jumps around in concert, kicking and screaming, like a 20-year-old, and is still the embodiment of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. With 2005’s A Bigger Bang, the Stones pick themselves up after some of the stumblings of their post-Tattoo You (1981) career, proving once and for all that a band with a combined age of nearly 250 can still go off pretty hard.
Former Beach Boy and surf-rock pioneer Brian Wilson, 64, released his long-awaited magnum opus SMiLE in late 2004, which had already gained a mythic status amongst fans after Wilson stopped its production in 1967 due to personal problems and growing tensions within the group. The album was hailed by critics and longtime fans as a masterpiece rivaling the Beach Boys’ best material and showcases Wilson as a virtuoso songwriter and arranger (as if we didn’t already know).
Wilson’s longtime friend and former artistic rival Paul McCartney, 64, (oh yeah, he was also in that band, the Beatles) released Chaos and Creation in the Backyard in 2005 to much acclaim. The album was extremely well-received, considered by many to be Sir Paul’s greatest album in years, and a throwback to his early solo work. McCartney, now at that magical age he so romantically glorified in 1967, seems to have reached a creative pinnacle in the twilight of his career. Now if only he would stop painting and focus on making more music as beautiful as this.
Bob Dylan just released his critically praised album Modern Times in August. The album marked the 65-year-old’s first number one record since Desire in 1976, making Mr. Zimmerman the oldest living person to have a record reach number one on the US Billboard charts. Ok, it’s no Highway 61 Revisited (1965) or Blonde on Blonde (1966), but what is, really? Dylan isn’t one to retrace his steps, and if he wanted to, he probably could go out and revolutionize rock ‘n’ roll all over again, but that just wouldn’t be cool.
By now, it’s probably safe to say that the Stones will never release another Exile on Main St. (1972), and it is unlikely that Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney will ever recapture the glory they attained in their respective 60s pop groups, but these geriatrics are all releasing career-rejuvenating albums in their golden years. With such rich histories to mine from, age isn’t a factor on quality, other than the fact that these guys learned from their past mistakes, and they know better than to repeat them. They’ll leave that to the amateurs.

why are the faces so sweet?

Ok, so it's nearly 3:30am, and I'm sitting up typing my column and listening to music when a very peculiar question strikes me: "Why are the Faces so gosh darn awesome?"
The group, fronted by the legendary Rod Stewart (before he got really lame), was a great rock 'n' roll band that doesn't get nearly as much recognition as they should, other than the fact that the former guitarist Ron Wood now plays with the Rolling Stones. Listen to "Flying" with the volume turned up high, and you'll probably discover a new favorite band.
If you're going to pick up one of their albums, the safest bet is their best of Good Boys... When They're Asleep. The album gives new listeners a proper introduction, and just has some really great tunes on it. Comparisons to the Stones are bound to come up, but who cares? They're both great!
Their blend of blues, soul, and rock 'n' roll created a sound that is unique, even by today's standards. Don't pass these guys up just because your mom listens to ol' Roddy. That would be a big mistake.