Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Musicks of the Aughts: 50+ songs & 35 albums

Well, this certainly was a lot of work, and almost certainly not worth the effort. Please argue your own point of view vehemently, quibble with my rankings shamelessly and nominate your own most slept-on favorites! That will make it all worthwhile.


Honorable mentions: Beyonce, "Irreplaceable"; Rich Boy feat. Polow da Don, "Throw Some Ds"; Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man"; Bright Eyes, "Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)"; M.I.A. feat. Bun B and Rich Boy, "Paper Planes (Diplo Remix)"; Burial, "Archangel"; Crooked Fingers, "New Drink for the Old Drunk"; Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing; Loretta Lynn feat. Jack White, "Portland, Oregon"; Jay-Z, "Dirt Off My Shoulder"

50. Jay-Z, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)"
You could have been anywhere in the world tonight, but you're here with me. I appreciate that.

49. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"
Great song, though pretty sad and hard to listen to knowing what we know now.

48. Rihanna, "Russian Roulette"

47. Radiohead, "Nude"

46. Justin Timberlake, "My Love"

45. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"

44. Usher, "Yeah"

43. Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out"

42. Missy Elliott, "Work It"

41. LCD Soundsystem, "All My Friends"

40. Brad Paisley, "Then"

39. R. Kelly feat. T.I. and T-Pain, "I'm a Flirt (Remix)"
Let me remind you that I am the king of R&B.

38. Lupe Fiasco, "Kick, Push"

37. The Dixie Chicks, "Not Ready to Make Nice"

36. The Gaslight Anthem, "High Lonesome"

35. Jay-Z, "Takeover"
One of the great battle raps in rap history.

34. Outkast, "Bombs Over Baghdad"

33. Kanye West, "Stronger"

32. Kylie Minogue, "Can't Get You Out of My Head"

31. The Roots, "Get Busy"
I just love Questo's drums on this track.

30. Three 7 Mafia, "Sippin' on Some Syrup"
I eat so many shrimp, I got iodine poisoning.

29. The Hold Steady, "Your Little Hoodrat Friend"

28. Spoon, "The Way We Get By"

27. Britney Spears, "Toxic"

26. Wilco, "Jesus Etc."

25. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, "Put On"

24. Dizzee Rascal, "Fix Up, Look Sharp"

23. Mike Jones feat. Paul Wall & Slim Thug, "Still Tippin’"
I had them play this song at my wedding reception, at night after the grandparents had gone home. Badass driving music has never been so relaxed.

22. Brad Paisley, "Alcohol"
Sung from the perspective of alcohol!

21. Rihanna, "Umbrella"

20. Lil Wayne "A Milli"

19. Outkast, "Hey Ya"
An obscure, little-heard track, but I thought I'd include it here just to confuse people.

18. Dr. Dre feat. Eminem, "Forgot About Dre"

17. R. Kelly, "Ignition (Remix)"
"After the show, it's the after-party. After the party it's the hotel lobby." This song also, if I'm not mistaken, introduced the favorite Kells habit of announcing that you are listening to a remix version.

16. Lil Wayne, "Shooter"

15. Sufjan Stevens, "The World's Columbian Exposition/Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream"

14. Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone"

13. Kanye West, "Gold Digger"
One of pop music's greatest exercises in disingenuousness. "I'm not saying she's a gold digger..." Really? What are you saying, then, Kanye?

12. Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack"

11. Beyonce feat. Jay-Z, "Crazy in Love"

10. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
Going to Wichita, to work the straw.

9. The Hold Steady, "Chips Ahoy!"

8. Eminem, "Stan"
One of the great story-songs ever, with beginning, middle and end. And, as has been pointed out, it's the only love song on the Marshall Mathers LP.

7. Radiohead, "Idioteque"

6. Flaming Lips, "Do You Realize?"

5. Outkast, "Ms. Jackson"

4. Jay-Z, "99 Problems"

3. Modest Mouse, "Float On"
One of my personal favorite songs, and I think still the most frequently played songs in my iTunes library. Drifter pop with an optimistic twist.

2. UGK feat. Outkast, "Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)"

1. Missy Elliott, "Get Ur Freak On"
Released in 2001, this is the song that announced the new millennium. And while this decade did not exactly turn out the way it should have, this is still the sound of how things could have gone. And it's a weird pop masterpiece. The Timbaland beat is masterfully multicultural, and Missy does a start-stop rapping thing that is just ... impressive. This is future music, still.


35. Fugazi, The Argument
34. Three 6 Mafia, Most Known Unknown
33. Madvillain, Madvillainy
32. Josh Rouse, 1972
31. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
30. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
29. Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
28. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois
27. Brian Wilson, Smile
26. Kanye West, Late Registration
25. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not
24. UGK, Underground Kingz
23. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight
22. Jamie Lidell, Multiply
21. Ghostface, Fishscale
20. Radiohead, In Rainbows
19. Dizzee Rascal, Boy in Da Corner
18. J Dilla, Donuts
17. The Streets, A Grand Don't Come for Free
16. R. Kelly, Double Up
15. Modest Mouse, Good News for People Who Love Bad News
14. Missy Elliott, Miss E ... So Addictive
13. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
12. Amadou & Miriam, Dimanche a Bamako
11. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds
10. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury
9. Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound
8. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3
7. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
6. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
5. Radiohead, Kid A
4. Kanye West, Graduation
3. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP
2. Outkast, Stankonia
1. Jay-Z, The Blueprint

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bad juju in O'Hare Airport on the day after Christmas

Late at night, things began to get weird on the F Concourse of O'Hare International Airport. December 26, 2009. Snow outside. On the F Concourse, children roamed unsupervised, giving wet willies to stranded passengers who were sleeping on the floor. I saw a stooped 90-year-old lady win a fistfight against a Mexican teenager. I think she may have had a knife. She pivoted on a heel in front of the Departures/Arrivals screens, asking "Who else wants a piece?", ready to level all comers.

At one point an eagle swooped through the concourse in pursuit of a team of white laboratory rats, causing travelers to trip over their luggage to get out of the way. The fact that there were rats running through the airport was easy enough to explain -- they could, for example, have escaped from the luggage of some traveling experimental scientist. But where did the eagle come from?


In fleeting moments, there was a sort of camaraderie among the passengers, us against the airlines. (Which reminds me: DO NOT FLY UNITED. DO NOT GO TO O'HARE. Those are my pieces of advice to you.) But we also turned on one another, Lord of the Flies-style. I am guilty myself, though I am not the only one. A reasonably nice guy bound for Stevens Point, Wisconsin, started talking about how United ought to open more customer service stations and I said, somewhat snidely, "Yeah, you should really say something about that." As if his perfectly reasonable complaint were just too stupid an observation to verbalize.


Hours earlier, a group of people bound for Fort Wayne, Indiana, were marched out through the snow, put in their plane, where they sat for hours. Then they all came back inside. Then they sat at the gate for hours longer. Then their flight was cancelled. And they were shocked that they would not make it to Fort Wayne, Indiana that night. I watched it happen. This was the essence of the experience of that day.

I saw a young woman with curly hair sobbing as she walked through the concourse pulling her bags behind her, tears streaming sideways across her face.


They opened a third customer service station and a murmur went through the line, as if things were finally beginning to look up. A group of teenage girls tried to cut in line -- pretending they were just starting a new line in front of the new service station instead of joining the one long line we'd all been shuffling through like dead-eyed zombies for more than two hours. As if they had discovered a secret the rest of us didn't know. They got a lecture over the loudspeaker from a bearded customer service worker. Not that it would have mattered, anyway. The new station saw exactly one passenger before the bearded man disappeared into the back room again.

I believe the F Concourse of O'Hare International Airport was only hours away from devolving into a sort of post-apocalyptic universe of powerful warlords, robust trade in sex and illicit drugs, violence and contagion throughout the land. And I was prepared to fall in line with any charismatic leader who could promise me things. Not so much promises of escape -- it was too late for that, we would be in the airport forever -- but rather the promise that we the passengers could rise up to punish our oppressors. I would have been down for that.


Luckily, I have a permanently reserved private suite at the O'Hare Hilton, to which we now retreated. We were pursued by a pack of filthy travelers pleading to share our bed, offering inducements -- sex, chocolate, a controlling interest in various major companies. Laura had to mace a number of them as we ran for the elevator.

In the room, I opened the curtains and looked out across the snow and the parking lot on the other side of the airport, and I saw vagrants gathered around a fire they had started in an oil drum, and in the snow on the top level of the parking deck, in tremendous letters visible only from above, the message was spelled out: DO NOT FLY UNITED. DO NOT GO TO O'HARE.

Laura and I sprawled across the silk sheets, ordered two of every item on the room service menu and two bottles of Dom Perignon and then fell asleep without eating or drinking a thing.

[Note: This account has been lightly fictionalized.]

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Inherent Vice Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Short version: I liked it better when it was called The Big Lebowski. Stoner detective, stumbling his way into an elaborate conspiracy. That is fine as far as it goes, but Pynchon seemed to be spinning his wheels a bit. The SoCal post-hippie thing is straight out of Vineland, and I really didn't sense much of an emotional connection between the author and these characters.

Worse, it just wasn't that funny. A lot of "far out" and "groovy" and funny names for different strains of weed -- not exactly the stuff of hilarious satire, to me.

So, whatever. I still love love love Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon and especially V. God knows the guy has earned the right to write a clunker here and there. But this is one.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, December 28, 2009

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Movies and Television of the Oughts

Remember, the point of these things is to argue about them. Here goes:

Runners up: Gosford Park, Borat, Capturing the Friedmans, Punch-Drunk Love, Wall-E, Erin Brockovich, Syriana, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Far from Heaven, No Country for Old Men, The Royal Tenenbaums

20. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
19. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18. Requiem for a Dream
17. Up
16. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
15. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
14. Elf
13. Lost in Translation
12. Spiderman
11. Being John Malkovich
10. Grizzly Man
9. Serenity
8. Ratatouille
7. Iron Man
6. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
5. A Mighty Wind
4. There Will Be Blood

3. O Brother Where Art Thou
This and The Big Lebowski are still for my money better than anything the Coen brothers have done since. Perfect synthesis of kitschy stoner comedy and archetypal detective story.

2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I am counting them together as one film. One of the great achievements in all of movie history. If I have to choose a favorite, I choose "The Two Towers."

1. The New World
My second-favorite film by my favorite director, Terence Malick. (Favorite would be Days of Heaven.) I love the way this movie really lets you see through the eyes of the first American settlers as they encounter the hopelessly alien "Naturals," their word for American Indians. Later, the film captures the same sense of strangeness for Pocahontas on her first encounter with Europe. It's also a disquisition on the (sometimes false) idea of paradise and the (sometimes prosaic) nature of love. And its nature photography is absolutely gorgeous.

I am not quite sure why, but I think my taste in television shows is much closer to the critical conventional wisdom than is my taste in music or movies. Arguably that makes this my most boring list. Still, these are all great shows:

15. The Colbert Report
14. Futurama
13. The West Wing
12. Mad Men
11. The Sopranos
10. Angel
9. 30 Rock
8. Veronica Mars
7. Battlestar Galactica
6. The Daily Show
5. Deadwood
4. The Office (American)
3. Arrested Development
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
1. The Wire

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from David Bowie and Bing Crosby:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The new Insophisticate is here!

The new Insophisticate is here! The new Insophisticate is here! We talked about year-end things. Dino argued for Blakrok, I made the case for Brad Paisley, Andy talked games. Listen and throw things at your ipod because you disagree so vehemently. It will be fun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Musicks and Things, 2009 Pt. II


Down with Webster, "Rich Girl$"
To me a really terrible song has to be one that you like just a little bit, or want to like or something. In this case, the sample reminds me of a song I like a lot, "Rich Girl" by Hall & Oates. But this song is way cheesy. For the line "you're supposed to laugh, that's a joke, hon," alone, this shit is unbearable. A big no, a wasted idea.

Mariah Carey vs. Eminem.
Mariah's single "Obsessed" is quite good, and it came with a bizarro Mariah-as-drag-king video. Eminem, meanwhile, followed his usual "go nuclear" rule with a massively embarrassing story involving premature ejaculation. Who knows if it is true or not, but I am sort of inclined to think it is.

Runner-up: Wayne Coyne vs. Win Butler
Flared up hilariously, died down disappointingly, then came roaring back. Great stuff.

Lady Gaga. Am I wrong? As music, sorta so-so. As postmodern performance art? Kind of interesting!

Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
Michael Jackson, Thriller
Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
Michael Jackson, Bad
The Beatles, Let it Be

Two good times of year were a.) around the time the Beatles reissues were coming out and everyone was talking about the Beatles for a minute there, and b.) just after Michael Jackson died, and the outpouring of emotion took the form of an ocean of unreleased demos and DJ mixes that were all amazing. Those were sad days, but they were also some of the greatest days for music listening I think we will ever experience.

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Musicks and Things, 2009 (Pt. I)

I am going to do a best of the decade list, too. Why not? So argue with my choices below, or send links to your own lists and I will post 'em.

Without further ado, my favorite albums and songs of 2009.

I know, what is an album? But collections of song do either hang together or not, and there is still something to records that work on a 45+ minute loop.

10. Rancid, Let the Dominoes Fall
Like the Raekwon record (#3), a total throwback. Hey everyone, it is 1995! No, I am not complaining.

9. J Dilla, Jay Stay Paid
Posthumous Dilla still better than 99 percent of the cats out there.

8. Lil Wayne, No Ceilings (mixtape)

7. Flaming Lips, Convinced of the Hex

A fuzzy, jammy session. Just what we haven't heard in a long time.

6. Jay-Z, The Blueprint 3

5. Amadou and Mariam, Welcome to Mali

4. Steve Earle, Townes
Sad songs in tribute to a sad man, Townes Van Zandt, a great and underappreciated songwriter.

3. Raekwon, Only Built for Cuban Linx Pt. II

Wu aesthetic lives on. I would not have thought the best rap record of 2009 would sound almost like it came out in the mid-'90s. But here we are.

2. Rihanna, Rated R

1. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night

People, it is not even close. This is absolutely the best, best-crafted album of 2009. Soaring choruses, shredding guitar solos, funny lyrics. Brad Paisley is big-hearted, likable, honest. They're just perfectly constructed songs built around sweet conceits. ... Just a stray thought, but how much better would that movie "It Might Get Loud" have been if it had swapped in Brad Paisley for Jack White?

I understand that many people's ears are not really tuned to modern Nashville country. Get them in tune.

21. Britney Spears, "If You Seek Amy"
Hey, let's see you release a song that spells out a curse word.

20. Flo Rida w/ Ne-Yo, "Be On You"
Hey, let's see you release a straight R&B ballad that is based on a scene from "Anchorman."

19. Drake w/ Kanye/Eminem/Lil Wayne, "Forever"
Eminem wins this one, but all the verses are pretty good.

18. Jay-Z, "Run This Town"

17. Kelly Clarkson, “My Life Would Suck Without You”

16. Rihanna feat. Young Jeezy, "So Hard"

15. Mariah Carey, "Obsessed"

14. Tortoise, “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In”

13. Miley Cyrus, "Party in the USA"

12. Wilco, “Wilco (The Song)”
Kind of sly in a way. Nice song.

11. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, "Afraid Ain't Me"

10. Major Lazer, "Hold the Line"

9. The Flaming Lips, "I Can Be a Frog"

8. Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling"
I think conceivably the Black Eyed Peas will be the Hootie & the Blowfish of 2019 -- mega-popular band that no one now admits to ever liking. (Btw, isn't it about time for a critical reappraisal of Hootie?) Whatever. They are good. Both "I Gotta Feeling" and "Boom Boom Pow" are monster singles.

7. Lady Gaga, "Paparazzi"

6. Amadou & Mariam, "Masite Lady"

5. Brad Paisley, "Then"

4. Steve Earle, “Pancho and Lefty”

It's weird but because it's the best-known Townes Zan Vandt song, it's also somehow the most personal of Steve Earle's covers. And it's just a great goddamn song.

3. Jay-Z, "Empire State of Mind"

2. Raekwon "10 Bricks"

1. Rihanna, "Russian Roulette"
Taut! As soaring and suspenseful as pop music can be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Portrait of Thomas Pynchon as a young man

Short but good piece in London Review of Books:
One of the things Pynchon liked was to be driven around LA by one of the young women from the neighbourhood while rehearsing his theories about the defence industry. His favourite hangout was a joint called Tommy’s which had good chilli cheeseburgers and Tom would always eat two in a hurry. He stuttered, and when he was excited, the words didn’t always flow. He told me at one point, almost vengefully, that one of his quests was to ‘keep scholars busy for several generations’. He said he had written The Crying of Lot 49 under the influence of Borges and for money, but it didn’t make money, and he dismissed it. He thought V a good effort. He was at work that summer on Gravity’s Rainbow, which he felt had real prospects. There was a pile of papers on a desk – scraps, handwritten notes, different coloured paper – and he would add to it if you said something he thought worth keeping. He said he didn’t go to the beach anymore.