24 December 2009

A Christmas Story

People can be placed in one of two categories for a lot of things in life.

Democrat or Republican

"Seinfeld" or "Friends"

Chicken or Fish

Now I realize that some people can blur the lines between the two respective categories; yes, there must be a gray area. But over the last few weeks, I've conducted countless hours of research to find that there is only one category where it is one or the other, either/or, black and white...

You're either a fan of A Christmas Story or you're not.

I havn't met anyone who just plain likes the movie. In fact, most people that I know can't stand it. Me, on the other hand...I LOVE IT. It is by far the most perfect Christmas movie ever made. And with each passing twenty-four hour Christmas Eve marathon on TBS, I find something new to appreciate and love. This year I showed the film in length to my classes, and although I have seen it 317 times, and although I will watch it again tonight at 8:00 p.m., I caught myself looking up at the screen several times, my inner child grinning with innocent delight. Yes, the film is funny...hell, it's hilarious at some points. But I, and most of my fellow Christmasholics, find pleasure in it because we can relate; because we knew what it was like being a child and wanting to jump our of our skin right after Thanskgiving. When I was six my grandmother got me a dress coat for Christmas and I hated it. And of course I would hate it. I was six; I wanted toys, damn it! My kid brother is twenty-one and he still hasn't voluntarily eaten fruits or vegetables since Gerber mashed them up into a tiny glass jar. I've had soap put into my mouth for swearing and getting caught. And, like Ralphie, I've gotten the end all and be all of Christmas gifts: the tree fort play set from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (for my Robin Hood action figures). I honestly don't think I'll ever get a gift as cool or exciting as that one (and I'm okay with that).

And I challenge you to not tell me a similar story from one, if not all four, of the examples given above.

The reason these stories do conjure splendid memories of childhood is because of Jean Shepherd, author of "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash," the novel A Christmas Story was based off of. He was, in my opinion, one of the most underrated American writers. If you've never heard of him, you're wrong: he is the narrator of the film. I've never read an author who captures the kindness and innocence of children so well while putting their emotions into a language that only adults can understand-which is why I think it is so poignant and meaningful.

There is one quote from the film, which coincidentally is my favorite quote of all time, that best sums up life for both children and adults:

"Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it's zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us."

What Shepherd is trying to say is that life is like a swinging pendulum: in one moment you can be on top of a world that's nothing short of immaculate, but it is only a matter of time for the pendulum to swing back the other way; to a macrocosm marred with abhorrent, dire times.

Karma, perhaps?

A very close friend of mine had a 2009 that saying it wasn't ideal would undercut it significantly, but from what I'm told is ending on a higher note than it began. Her pendulum is veering back to where it needs to be, and I'm elated for her.

I've had a pretty full year where I can honestly say that I count my blessings each and every night. There has been one or two things that, simply put, did not go the way I wanted them to, but that's okay-it's not all wine and roses! I've been teaching in my classroom since I graduated last December (something that can be categorized with Haley's comet and the parting of the Red Sea); I was in a wonderful, albeit short-lived, relationship with a woman who made me realize that there are still women with class, grace, beauty and brains out there-you just have to be willing to find them in the most interesting, creative and circumstantial ways imaginable; only one person close to me passed away, but it was for the best as she lived a hard life these last few years and is now in a better place.

But what does that say about this next year? Is my pendulum bound to crash from greatness to unfortunate circumstances? Will I be able to keep a job in such a bitter economic time that our Senate is trying to tax tanning bed usage? Will my family stay healthy, safe, and sound? Will I be fortunate enough to fall in love again? Who knows?!?! Ah, but that is life. We can be skeptical, we can keep our guard up and not venture into the unknown abyss, or, we can keep an open mind and an open heart and hope for our glasses to be half full of cheer, merriment, and good fortune.

A Robin Hood tree fort would definitely help the cause, right?

Merry Christmas and God Bless you and all of your families!

28 October 2009

"Billow and Brine"

But I’d rather you’d be
The anchor
To my ship
Than the desolate wind
Tapping my sails,
Steering me away
With finesse.


Ships set sail in strong March,
Risking their worlds, die to be brave;
For summer’s broken hearts and old-soul songs:
Which to be passed and which to be saved?

They can’t have both, the hearts and souls;
One must drown, while one must rise.
Rum-drunk before the sailor, all the better,
But they know they’ll never make it out alive.

The summers always brought ‘em,
Those sincere and weathered autumns.
Where hardened sailors must turn stone;
Haul their anchors and sail to unruffled waters.

The seas are too rough for men
With a wild desire, and the heart of a boy.
The world can’t be merely predicated.
Tides wash broken vessels straight to shore.
But savage ships need anchors to bind them
To the soft and sandy ocean floor.

But does there really exist such a thing?
Waters bare of ridge and ripple, of billow and brine
Are like the love letters you never got the chance to write:
Inhibited anguish with nowhere to go-
Nothing but a waste of time.

20 October 2009

Let The Wild Rumpus Start!


The older I get (I'll be twenty-four next month), and the more I get into this teaching racket, the more distant and detached I feel I'm becoming from my childhood. Last night I got to see Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's' book Where The Wild Things Are. Although this is not a film review, I will say that I did enjoy the film. The sets, art direction, and Max (the perfectly casted Max Records) were all amazing; but I must admit that it was the Wild Things and the actors that lent their voices to the creatures that threw me over the top. Anyways, seeing the movie reminded me a lot of my childhood. As a kid, I remember my parents reading me that book before bed and being both startled yet memorized by the Wild Things. And I also adored Max. He was bold, brave, daring, and wild. But he was also eight and I could identify with what it was like to be eight and scared of the imperfect world around me; to see every angle change and feeling helpless that I couldn't stop it was what Max and the eight year old me had in common.

And all nostalgia aside, seeing Jonze's film made me realize that part of me is still eight...something that, surprisingly enough, I greatly appreciate.

In the film, Max becomes isolated in his own world; a world that has all but collapsed (divorce, his sister growing up and making new friends, a mother's new boyfriend, his igloo...collapsing, THE SUN EXPLODING!!!) In a violent and defiant fit of rage, Max snarls and sinks his fangs into his mother, runs off, and sets sail for the land of the Wild Things to ineviatbly become their king. Of all the creatures, he identifies most with Carol (perfectly voiced by "The Sopranos" James Gandolfini), the leader of the Wild Things. The two connect because, like Max, Carol can't fathom change in a world he deems as perfect. It is at the end of their wild rumpus that both Carol and Max realize that change is a permanent part of life; that you have to take the good with the bad and not get all wild when life doesn't go your way.

This is the point in the film where I realized that Carol, Max and I have a lot more in common than rugged good looks.

Some things have recently happened that I havn't been able to control, and it's been driving me nuts. It's like my igloo is collapsing on me, and, like Carol and Max, my perfect world is falling apart. But.Life.Isn't.Perfect. It just works out right every once in a while so we keep ourselves living for those moments where a smile isn't an option...it's a necessity.

I find it both odd and redeeming that a children's' movie has re-opened my eyes to one of life's biggest problems: a problem that I tend to forget how to solve and need to hit the REFRESH button every once in a while in order to figure things out.

Although Carol and Max have helped me cope with things that have been troubling me lately, they HAVE ALSO helped me come to the conclusion that, like them, I struggle with a changing world that I can do nothing about; that like them I sometimes have a heart as big as a monster's and as pure as a child's and I don't understand the world as I should.

And this doesn't make me feel as old as I once did...

28 May 2009

Carrie Bradshaw and the 2005-2006 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers

(I wrote this on July 10th, 2008 at about 3:30 a.m. This is pretty dated, but I thought I would share it for two reasons: 1.) This is one of the most honest and simply best things I think I've ever written, and 2.) I havn't been able to honestly finish anything, and I'm kind of being lazy by posting this.)


Carrie Bradshaw and the 2005-2006 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers:

Why the Sex and the City Movie Means More to Me (Now) Than the Black and Gold Ever Did


I.

On July 9th, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. I went to the Allegheny County Jail to see the last ever public execution.

Inmate #000781926 was euphemized by lethal injection at 9:21:08 p.m.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.



II.

Truth be told, I have no idea if the Allegheny County Jail even puts down convicts anymore, and I certainly know that if they did, they would not allow the public to watch it. Anyways, why would anyone want to watch that? I mean, come on…lethal injection? A rather weak way for a criminal to punish, don’t you think? No, I believe that if you’re going to kill someone, do it as violently as possible. I’d rather see them fry like Michael Clark Duncan did in the Green Mile. Or maybe, and this is just me thinking aloud, see them forced to eat their bodyweight in their last meal until their stomachs literally exploded from overeating. Makes you wonder what it would be called if your last meal were stuffed pork chops. Double-stuffed pork chops, eh? Yeah, if I were really at the last public execution on July 9th, that’s how I would have wanted Inmate #000781926 to perish for the crimes he or she committed.


No…on that unusually mild July night I went to the Galleria movie theater in Mt. Lebanon to see Sex and the City. I’d like to say that I was held at gunpoint and forced against my will to sit in that theater and watch Cynthia Nixon up in pathetic arms about Steve committing an infidelity on their marriage because she wasn’t giving him any lovin’. I’d want you to believe that my family was being held hostage by jewel smugglers and would be released only after me having to sit through two and a half hours of Kristin Davis’ character basking in her perfect marital bliss while her three best friends were miserable with their own relationship troubles. And I would need you to understand that international terrorists from the Middle East were holding the free world hostage, and only me sitting through what seemed to be an endless ocean of forty or so middle-aged women laughing at every-last-one of Kim Cattrall’s smarmy, smart-ass comments was our country’s only hope of surviving from what one could only assume to be a nuclear holocaust of grave detail.


But alas, that was not the case.


No, I was just a shitty boyfriend.


A plain and simple shitty boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) who has had to live with that self-inflicted, but most deserved, title for the past two months.


When her and I were together, she did everything and anything I ever asked of her. When her and I were together, I did two things with her that she wanted to do: 1.) We went to a lake once, and 2.) I hung out with her friends once.


Two things. That’s it.


That’s a very hard and bitter pill to swallow; to know that I did nothing for the person I was in love with. But I take at least two doses of that notion every single day. The slightly above average life I lead has become harder because I fully know and understand my mistakes. Now, I’m not trying to glorify myself or anything, but I’ve figured that I had at least owed her this one movie on top of the countless number of movies, restaurants, television shows, sporting events, parties, family functions, gatherings, shindigs, festivities, etc. that she had gone to with me.


For me.


And not for her (she was a very unselfish person to say the least, and I was, well, you got the picture already, right?).


So yeah, we went and saw that film, and I can safely say that Sarah Jessica Parker-Brodrick and her equally obnoxious co-stars taught me a valuable lesson: that no matter how much I believe it, no matter how much I want it to be true, the 2005-2006 Pittsburgh Steelers have taught me nothing that is valuable to my life, but the Sex and the City movie has.



III.

It was such a magical ending, wasn’t it? I mean, it was everything I had ever hoped for and more. The story leading up to it was flawless, but the ending…well, it just left me speeches. In awe. Mesmerized. Hell, if we’re going to be honest, it left me in a pile of drunken, masculine tears in the middle Elm Street in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania on a very cold and bitter early February night. To quote one of my favorite films, at that moment, all was right with the world.


Yes, the 2005-2006 Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XL Championship run was absolutely perfect to me and about twenty million other members of the prestigious Steeler Nation.


I’m only going to go into five minor details about that season only because professional football is not the point of this essay:


1.) Ben Roethlisburger was both the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl, but also had the worst quarterback rating of any quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl. After the previous season’s AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots, Roethlistburger told Steeler running back Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, whom contemplating retirement, that if he stuck around for one more season, Roethlisburger would get him to the Super Bowl. He did this and then some.


2.) Head coach Bill Cowher, one of the finest men ever to lead any professional sports franchise, finally won the big one after constant criticism for blowing one other Super Bowl and four previous AFC Championship games. After the game, he, his wife, and his three daughters embraced on the field, then high-fived each other; an act of which Cowher himself has admitted brought him to tears.


3.) Jerome Bettis won Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan in front of dozens of family members and friends. Upon holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the winner’s podium, Bettis retired instantly from the game of professional football. Nobody could have written a better ending than that for the Bus.


4.) After winning the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player, it is tradition for that athlete to say, “I’m going to Disneyland!” After Hines Ward, Steelers’ wide receiver, was given that honor, he said, “I’m going to Disneyland, and I’m taking The Bus!”


5.) I was, in fact, driven to tears that February night. I blame it mostly on the Keystone Premium and Southern Comfort that I was drinking that day…all day in fact. But in my heart of hearts I know now that I was not only proud of my team, but also moved by how…well, moving professional sports really are. If anyone ever tells any of you that professional sports aren’t dynamic and heart wrenching, well, you can tell them to talk to anybody in Steeler Nation.


Oh, how I love me some Pittsburgh Steelers.


I was asked once what I loved more: the Pittsburgh Steelers or her (the ex-girlfriend I mentioned above)? I hesitated for a second, but naturally responded her. But in all reality I was honestly thinking the Steelers. Back then my logic behind it was that she may one day up and leave me, but the Steelers would always be there, no matter what.


I couldn’t have been more wrong.



IV.

Other then seeing odds and ends of the “Sex and the City” television show, I have never seen an episode in its entirety. To be honest, I think that if you added up my odds and ends, it probably would not equal a full half-hour episode of the show (if the show is even in half-hour incriminates). And do you want to know why this is true? Do you want to know why this is true for almost all men? Do you want to know why the collective alpha-male has never watched the show?


Because.


Because the show is for women. Because they depict an upscale life for women that is completely unrealistic to almost everyone including myself (and actually makes me feel inferior because I could never provide that kind of lifestyle for my lady). Because the witty dialogue isn’t so witty if you’re not a women. Because the sexual innuendos used are from the perspective of women, so they make me a little insecure and uncomfortable. Because my mother, my aunts and all of their middle-aged friends watch the show. Because if I had to choose one woman from that show to have sex with, it would not be Kim Cattrall’s character, and she’s the most logical choice because she is the easiest. Because, as Peter Griffin from Family Guy would say, making a judgment between Sarah Jessica Parker-Brodrick and Kirstin Duntst in a hot body/ugly face competition is an impossible feat, and the show would just make it harder. Because when push came to shove, I wasn’t going to watch a television show that I didn’t want to.


Take your pick because they’re all valid in my book.


They all hold some type of truth, especially the remark about Kim Cattrall.


But despite the many reasons I could have chosen not to go and see that movie with her, I needed to.


And I did.


And I was enlightened.



V.

Two things actually.


As we sat in the theater, which I might add was rather crowded for a Thursday night, I noticed that: 1.) None of the women whom were in attendance were alone, and 2.) I was one of only three men at the show that night. Now you may be asking yourself why anyone would go to a movies alone, and since I knew you were going to do that, I have come up with a logical answer. If you think about it, a movie theater is a very illogical place to go with friends, companions and loved ones because you shouldn’t talk. And if you’re like me and you want to get the most out of you $10.00 movie ticket, you won’t talk. Plus, the whole sociological construction of a movie theater is to prevent people from talking. Think about this: all of the seats face forward, preventing you from comfortably looking at the person next to you; because of the tiered-design of each row of seats, moviegoers cannot see the people around them, which as we all know creates a panoptic mechanism, which in turn forces one to be quiet because they never know when they’re being watched by others; and finally, thanks to George Lucas and the fine folks at Skywalker Sound, people cannot possibly converse without shouting because of how loud films nowadays are engineered to sound. So you see, going to the movies alone is a very acceptable behavior given each theater’s sociological construction, or, lack thereof.


But I digress.


I noticed that these women were not alone, and there is a reason for this: no matter how awful men truly think Sex and the City really is, women are connected by it. There was a general consensus of excitement in the air that night and it was shared not only by all the women in the theater, but also by every woman in the world who has ever needed a good laugh, a good cry, or simply a common bond to share with their fellow sisters. While even I found some of the movie humorous, I couldn’t help but to take enjoyment during the moments where all of the women would feel together in unison. Whether it was Steve admitting to Miranda that he had slept with another woman, Charlotte drinking the Mexican water, Big leaving Carrie stranded at the altar on their wedding day, or Samantha becoming speechless at the sight of her hunk of a next door neighbor showering, all of these women in the theater that night cried, laughed, cried and laughed together. Despite their varying ages, backgrounds, sexual orientations, races and classes, they were all united as one for that one night, and sometimes it just takes only two and a half hours to make all the difference in the world, especially to a woman. I get that now. I dig Sex and the City.



VI.

I also noted above that I was only one of three men in the theater that night. Truth be told, I noticed that there were only two other men because I was on the look-out for people who may recognize me. I, Sean Patrick Lohrer, could not…no, should not be spotted at the Sex and the City movie! No matter how much of the I don’t care what people think of me! persona I give off, I do have some sort of credibility to maintain, don’t I? Regardless of my motives and intentions, I did notice that two other men were there at the theater that night, and they were there with their wives. I naturally believed that I was better than them because, while I chose to come to the movie, they were forced to come by the brutal hand that is marriage. As I sat in that dark theater between the girl that I had at one point in time thought I was going to marry someday and a wall of silence that wasn’t created by the theater itself, but by my own insecurities and regrets, I couldn’t help but to notice the other two men: they actually looked like they wanted to be there and nowhere else.


At twenty-two I have time and time again thought that I knew a lot about life’s most important virtues; what it was like to truly be alive. Relationships have come and gone in my short existence, sometimes by my own will and others not. And I have grown-up with each failing one, treating them as life lessons, if you will. I can honestly say that that night I didn’t learn any life lessons nor had any epiphanies about how I could have been a better boyfriend; I didn’t come to any conclusions nor did I come to any realizations about why we’re not together anymore. All I saw were two men who were truly in love with their wives. At the end of that movie I looked at both of them and I saw happiness at its most beautiful moment. I know its’ cliché, but the looks in the eyes of those two men said it all. It was a very familiar look. I saw it in her eyes every time we did something on my terms, and sometimes I’d like to think to myself that she saw it in my eyes that night.


I’ve lived all my life as a Steelers fan; as part of Steeler Nation. I’ve waved my Terrible Towel with pride. I’ve felt disappointment when they lost. I cried when they won the Super Bowl. My heart was broken when Myron Cope died. Mr. Rooney was one of the greatest men who has ever lived. But in twenty-two years I have never felt as connected with the Steelers as I did with the Sex and the City movie and the woman I got to watch it with on July 9th, 2009.


That night inmate #000781926 was probably let off the hook, anyways.

06 March 2009

My Top Five Albums of 2008

Unlike most Americans and their deep ties and devotions to the American flag, my colors have always run along with the lines of my music. And this not a unilateral movement, either; it’s very, well…multilateral. Both my passion for the sweet beats and my harsh criticisms towards many-a-bands and many more-o-genres have kept my interests, ears and heart peaking for the past several years.

My passion for music has always exceeded my passion for…well, anything else. I used to joke around with an ex-girlfriend and said that I believed in the Seattle rock Gods Pearl Jam more than I do most religions (which isn’t an entirely false statement, but a statement that is meant to show my devotion to music, more accurately, to Pearl Jam). This is probably why she’s now an ex.

She wasn’t much for music.

Or my witty sense of humor.

However, where my passion can only take me so far, it is my criticism of music, or my rock-n-roll snobbery, that has taken it that next step further. I am of the High Fidelity generation. That film has made more sense to me than almost anything else I can fathom to think of. I can picture myself sitting around a below-profit-margins record shop (that I own both happily and bitterly, by the way), arguing with two people that I don’t particularly like but definitely need in order to feel better about myself in terms of my ego, general loneliness, as well as the fact that we are all in agreeancess that a beautiful woman serenading us with Peter Gabriel can make us all look past our petty difference and simultaneously fall in love. I want to make enlightening remarks such as, "What came first: the music of the misery? […] Did people listen to pop music because they were miserable, or were they miserable because they listened to pop music?’ or ‘Sometimes I got so bored of trying to touch her breasts that I would try to touch her between her legs. It was like trying to borrow a dollar, getting turned down, and asking for fifty-grand instead’ (that last quote has nothing whatsoever to do with music…I just find it that funny). Yes, that serene and enviable lifestyle would be sweet.

But I am a teacher.

And I’m fine with that.

I love it.

But being a rock-and-roll aficionado does come in a very close second.


So when I was halfway done with my freshmen year of college, I started assembling my top albums of each year in a black and white composition book; something only myself and a few other people have ever seen, but something that has always been relevant and mattered to at least me. This past year, 2008 to be exact, was no different. I made up my list, opened the composition book, wrote in said composition book, showed said composition book to said few people, closed said composition book, and put it away for next year. However, I have wanted to start a blog for so long, and what would make a better post (or more sense) than my top five albums of 2008? (don’t answer this question to yourselves; it’s not meant to be rhetorical).

So without further a due…

My Top 5 Albums of 2008

5. The Gaslight Anthem The ’59 Sound
Released 25 August 2008 (Side One Dummy Records)
Official Site

I both typically and usually get really pissed off when critics rant and rave about how (insert any band or musician that released an album after 2003) sounds like (insert any band or musician that released an album prior to 1988). Save for the brilliant “Stuck Between Stations,” this is the reason why I hate the Hold Steady. Critics constantly write that the band is so heavily influenced by Bruce Springsteen, listeners can really get a sense of the Boss in their music. Bullshit, sir. You cannot remotely tell that the Hold Steady are influenced by the Boss. Just because both frontman Craig Finn thinks the world of Springsteen and the band is from New Jersey does not mean the band sounds like anything played on the E-Street. They wouldn’t even be allowed to take a Sunday stroll on either the D-Street nor the F-Street..

This theory is why I thought I would hate the Gaslight Anthem.

And this is why this theory is now put to shit.

The Gaslight Anthem is rather refreshing. Their gimmick, unlike most music around, is that they have no gimmick. They write songs about what know: falling in and out of love, working hard, and growing up. These themes are what most musicians know and write about, but unlike most, the Gaslight Anthem do so with honesty, much like Springsteen, whom they list as an influence; an influence any listener can hear in their music. What is unique about them is that they do so with a punk attitude; an attitude that can only be attributed to their Jersey upbringing, as well as other obvious influences such as Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer and Social Distortion’s Mike Ness.

Key Tracks: “Great Expectations,” “Casanova, Baby,” “The Backstreets”

4. Ra Ra Riot The Rhumb Line
Released 19 August 2008 (Barsuk Records)
Official Site

Although I am both an advocate and reader of Spin magazine, I must say that I was hesitant when the publication featured Ra Ra Riot as one of their artists to watch in their September 2008 issue. They tend to hype a band up; a hype that, to me, is almost always met with disappointment. Case in point: Radiohead, the White Stripes and the Strokes. Now, all of these bands are tremendously talented, but the hype has always, at least for me, outshined the performance.

The Rhumb Line, however, is class. The album sounds like the soundtrack to the end of the world: they want to meet the apocalypse, not with irrational fear and a frenzied panic, but rather in a somber state of acceptance infused with a subtle sense of urgency. They can’t wait for this world to be over, so they decide to write quality music to help it all go by faster. “Winter ’05,” arguably the album’s strongest track, focuses this end sentiment towards a wayward lover whom frontman Wes Miles claims would make the winter pass by faster if only she were there with him.

Key Tracks: “Winter ’05,” “Dying is Fine,” “Suspended in Gaffa”

3. Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend
Released 29 January 2008 (XL Recordings)
Offical Site

Vampire Weekend was the first band to ever grace the cover of Spin magazine without having released an album (this release would happen a few weeks later). On the other hand, they were not the first band to ever appear on “Saturday Night Live” before a proper album release; however, their appearance on the long-running (and increasing less-funny) sketch comedy show opened my eyes to this college band from Columbia U and the ingenuity they had to offer. Their debut, Vampire Weekend, just feels like it came out at the right time. Music, at least in my un-humble opinion, is in a awkward way for two reasons: 1.) The art of the album is dying in almost every which way. Although I am not opposed to digital sales, I am opposed to not physically having an album and seeing it’s art. Album art is a beautiful thing, and so are liner notes and lyrics for that matter, and 2.) The increasing blending of genres (which isn’t a bad thing at all) is forcing most novice listeners to detract from what is bold, new, and inventive, and take up what is familiar, and frankly, kind of uncreative and unoriginal (see about thirty-eight of the top forty acts on the Billboard charts). It just feels like this band, especially after releasing such a stellar debut that is so full of life, and most importantly fun, is going to keep true music afloat for a little while longer.

Key Tracks: “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “I Stand Corrected”

2. Kings of Leon Only by the Night
Released 24 September 2008 (RCA)
Official Site

I had recently lived in Dublin, Ireland for seven weeks, and although I could write an entire blog post about the experience (which will happen someday probably not too soon), I will make this claim now: Simply stated, Europeans have a much better taste in music than most Americans. Don’t ask me why this is, because I couldn’t begin to come up with a complete theory as to why. Maybe it’s because they have a better education system than we do? Maybe it’s because “X-Factor” contestants are much better than the ones on “American Idol”? Or maybe it’s because they do not have a southern U.S., and thus they do not have to be exposed to the wife beating, inbred-inducing, pain that is country and/or western? Whatever the reason may be, I know that I was both shocked and elated to hear Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” being spun from every turntable in Ireland.

Kings of Leon have been labeled the next big thing with each and every album they’ve released since their debut E.P. was delivered in 2003, and one has to start wondering when they are going to arrive, especially with uber-fans like U2 and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder backing their every move.

Only by the Night, my friends, is their breakthrough.

Although the album is, in my opinion, a step backwards in terms of the raw power and emotion that was 2005’s Aha Shake Heartbreak, it is two steps in the right direction in terms of commercial success.

Simply put, this band is just too good not to be heard by everyone in the world, especially here in the U.S. where they are just catching on.

Lead single, “Sex on Fire,” is quite possibly the best rock n’ roll song that I’ve heard since Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels.” And I’m being very honest and very sincere with that statement. Hell, I’ll be even more honest with you: if it weren’t for “Sex on Fire,” this album would only be an honorable mention, and Death Cab for Cutie would have been fifth on this year’s list. Don’t’ get me wrong, the other tracks are all solid; but “Sex” is just that great. The song just bring this indescribable energy that makes you want to get out of that daze you've been in called life, forget your troubles, and just dance!

Key Tracks: “Sex on Fire,” “Use Somebody,” “I Want You”

1. Coldplay Viva la Vida or Death and All of His Friends
Released 17 June 2008 (Capitol Records)
Official Site

After Coldplay’s disappointing 2005 release, X&Y, I was very skeptical about buying, let alone listening, to this album. I can only muster so much disappointment from a band that I at one time respected, trusted, and admired. Their first two releases were so incredible: they not only fused what British imports Radiohead and Blur had to offer musically, but they also picked up where both bands left off in terms of their exposure and commercial success in the States.

Viva la Vida or Death and All of His Friends just feels right to me. Lyrically Coldplay doesn’t venture too far from their comfort levels of love, faith and hope, but musically this album was a departure from their signature sound; a departure that the band needed to take in order to maintain their credibility as artists. While tracks such as “Viva la Vida” and “Violet Hill” have been the highlights of this album (and they are good songs), it’s gems such as “Strawberry Swing,” “Lost,” and “42” that make this album worthy of a number one status.

It is, however, the album’s last track, “Death and all of His Friends,” that makes this album all come together. More often than not, a band will go front heavy on their album with great songs, leaving the mediocre tracks towards the end. Not in Coldplay’s case. “Death…” is an emotional tidal wave about living life to the fullest, sans regrets, that builds up from a soft whisper into a symphonic and climatic finish. And it’s one of those songs that is going to translate very well live; each member making sure their audience is left in awe. Much like they have been already having listened to this album.

Key Tracks: “Lost,” “42,” “Death and all of His Friends”

Honorable Mentions

The Black Keys Attack and Release
Released April 1 2008 (Nonesuch Records)
Official Site

For a two-man blues-rock band, they sure make a lot of hard noise.

Death Cab for Cutie Narrow Stairs
Released 13 May 2008 (Atlantic)
Official Site

Tracks such as “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” “No Sunlight” and “Pity and Fear” were all top-quality, standard DCFC tracks; however, they lacked the closeness and sincerity that “Brother’s on a Hotel Bed” from 2005’s Plans had.

Nada Surf Lucky
Released 5 February 2008 (Barsuk Records)
Official Site

Nada Surf have continued to put out solid indie-pop for the better half of this decade, yet they do not get the recognition they deserve. Lead sing and lyricist Matthew Caws writes deeply personal and touching music that many can relate to, but few have had the chance to do so.

R.E.M. Accelerate
Released 1 April 2008 (Warner Bros./Wea)
Official Site

The first four tracks alone are worth the listen.

Looking Forward to 2009…

· Built to Spill
· Conor Oberst Outer South 5 May 2009
· Cursive
Mama, I’m Swollen
· Dave Matthews Band Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King (This is the first album without now deceased saxophonist and founding member Leroi Moore) 2 June 2009
· Iron and Wine
Around the Well 19 May 2009
· Neil Young
Fork in the Road
· Neko Case Middle Cyclone 3 March 2009
· Pearl Jam (New album slated for a late summer/fall release)

· Rancid
· Sonic Youth
The Eternal 9 June 2009
· Ted Leo + the Pharmacists
· U2 No Line on the Horizon (I heard the track “Breathe” and it is very, very good) 3March 2009
· Wilco
· Yeah Yeah Yeahs It’s Blitz (This album is getting a lot of good buzz, which may or may not be a bad thing)