Running (Back) Songs: The Patriots Run to the AFC Championship

As I have written before, I have been a bit of a fan of the Patriots for some time although my love affair with their QB waxed and waned this season (or, rather, waned and waxed, because, hey, he figured it out!). One of the fascinating yet frustrating things about the Patriots over the past decade is that as their passing game has developed, the running game has faltered. Now, while the team’s points per game average has skyrocketed, the win/loss outcome in the playoffs has been, well, disappointing.

(Two losses to Eli? ELI!)

Blount’s most famous day before last weekend.

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Hopsin and New Hip Hop

Last year it was Lil Weezy, this year it’s this Hopsin dude that these kids love. He seems to be a semi-good role model since the meaning of this song supposedly communicates the evils of drug and alcohol abuse. The contacts are weird and I’m assuming it’s for effect, but he sure looks like he’s on drugs. Regardless, I really dig his rhymes, the Dr. Dre style G Funk production and the positive message. Also, I like the statement about Obama, well thought-out Mr. Hopsin.

Life is incredibly busy right now. The first days of school have turned to the second week and besides a serious case of the Mondays yesterday, things are progressing at school. The nature of our program and students is that things will ebb and flow, good days and bad days will happen all at once sometimes and that’s just the way it is. One student, notorious for various offenses at the old school of a very serious legal nature, has warmed up to me after I spent some time wondering what type of rap he likes. I shared how I love Wu Tang, Biggy, Tupac, and  am getting into A Tribe Called Quest as of late. Although he also likes songs by these “old” rappers, he’s told me about all these newer rappers so I will share my thoughts on them as well as a suggestion I got from the 8th grade GT teacher.

1. Jelly Roll, “Ridin all Alone”

I first thought of Jelly Roll Morton, the famous jazz pianist, when I saw this name and heard this song. I probably couldn’t be further from the truth. This sounds like a Bone Thugs and Harmony sample and I say that in a positive way. It sounds like the 90’s and could have some straight out of MTV Jams. I don’t love the image of this overweight white man rapping, but this song has an underlying message of the loneliness and alienation of the thug life as well as a desire to be a better father. It reminds me also of “Suicidal Thoughts” by Biggy, but not as ill. It is catchy though and I like it a lot more than most of Wiz Khalifa’s stuff.

2. Rich Homie Quan, “Type of Way”

Strange Name. It took me multiple attempts of asking my thug type of student to even be able to positively Google this guy.

I don’t love this song lyrically or even the style of rapping because it sounds like the high pitched stuff Lil Wayne does. The beats are kind of cool and certainly riffing on the popularity of clubby sounding music and the evil onslaught of dub step. I mean it’s not terrible, but this far in the list, it’s certainly my least favorite. It makes me think of a shitty Ja Rule song with a bad guest rapper doing most of the MCing.

3. Vampire Weekend, “Step”

The Elder J and The Other J have mentioned this band before and although not my favorite, I do enjoy some of their songs and think their addition of Afro style rhythms is original for Indie rock as well as sounding mad cool. 

Step remix

This song must be super rare because I could not find it in YouTube and had to include the address where I found it from a link my former classroom neighbor and 8th grade Gifted and Talented  teacher sent me last night. As cool as it is to have my own program I developed and to be in our own newly renovated spacious digs, I miss a lot of my colleagues and he is near the top of the list of people I miss. We had a lot of highly intellectual conversations that annoyed my co-teacher and some real laughs on subjects from lethargic genius level students to his idea of us quitting teaching to join a fast food chain to see who would rise up the chain fastest. We also had a game of putting pink pieces of paper in each other’s mailbox to feign being fired which never ceased to make me laugh. His love and knowledge of underground hip-hop also has been something that continually impresses me. This jam is awesome and I have got to get into some more Danny Brown.

4. Tech N9ne, “Ima Tell”

I really enjoy when people spell their music names all weird like this, it really strikes my fancy.

This is close to my favorite of the songs my student told me to listen to, mostly because I think Tech sounds like Ludacris and I loved me some Luda back in the day. They call him Tech N9ne because of his rapid fire style which is what the 9mm submachine pistol Tec-9 is  known for besides being used by the trench coat kids at Columbine. I am not sure what he means by clowns, maybe the Insane Clown Posse or like clowns as in stupid people? I know this guy likes to get high and get paid and thats ok. Lastly, you gotta respect a gangsta rapper who samples “Mambo Itailiano” for a hook. Shit, only Jay- Z could get away with that when he sampled “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie.

5. Struggle ft Yelawolf and Waylon Jennings, “Outlaw Shit”

Well searching for one of the other jams, I saw two rappers along side Waylon’s name and I had to check it out. Everyone knows I love honky tonk and this melding of that with hip hop would be good to me even if it wasn’t.

I typically don’t like white rappers and it’s probably some type of reverse racism. I can’t even really stomach Eminem, but I digress. I love this song and it’s my favorite of the bunch. The production is amazing, like I can’t get enough of these beats from the steel guitar to the lush orchestration. I know nothing about Struggle except that he is in fact Waylon Jennings’ grandson! That tattoo on his back is for real and I guess seven of the nine tracks on his recent album include samples of Grandpa’s music. I read some trash talking on the Net about this but I see it as an incredibly cool thing. If he only ever makes tracks with those samples, well then, God speed.

Speaking of outlaw shit, the same student who told me to check out these rappers made a very poor decision in our bathroom today and is suspended indefinitely. I had no choice but to include our administrators and eventually the police and I feel bad about it even if I did what I had to do. My biggest personal weakness in my chosen field of education is that I feel bad when I have to get kids in trouble and even more so with this kid because he’s already on probation and in the 8th grade. His reputation is generally negative, however, I’ve found him to be a basically good kid who makes poor decisions.  It’s not my fault he does this, but I still will have this negative feeling in my brain for a few days. So to end this post, I will leave you with another Struggle song and the hopes that what went down with my student will not be the “Black Curtains” for him in my class.

A sample of a Cream cover by Waylon Jennings? So sweet!

Best Albums of 2013 (According to Math)

Note: On this first day of the new year, we bring you a post from yet Another J, my college roommate, economist extraordinaire, and runner supreme. Not only has he been kind enough to provide musical hints that have turned into blog posts, but he has also been patient enough to tolerate his stories being fictionalized and told in other posts. Here, he tries to bring some rigor to the squishy practice of annual rankings. Read it. Love it. Debate it. Or something like that.

After three years of reading this blog and seeing my adventures, superior musical taste, and mediocre musical talent alluded to many times, I have finally taken the plunge and decided to contribute in a public way. The ElderJ has asked me to contribute many times and I have started many posts in my head but the topics seemed either too small or obscure to use to introduce myself to the thousands (millions? hopefully double digits?) of readers of this blog. So I decided to start with something more interesting: a music rating algorithm to rate the top albums of 2013.

I wanted to be like all the cool kids and create a list of my favorite albums of 2013. However, that is much harder than it seems, especially this year. It seemed like there were many good to great albums released in 2013, but very few truly stood out. My top few albums were obvious, but what about albums 4 through 100? I needed a way to quantify the merits of each album to accurately rank them.

The algorithm, a fancy term for math used to impress people, came to me driving to work on a random snowy day. The idea is simple: the best albums ever made consist of the best songs, the worst albums are made of the worst songs, and all of the rest fall in between. Between the best and worst albums ever exist albums that have one transcendent song and 12 other tracks of garbage, but also solid albums that do not have one “great” song but 12 “very good” songs. The algorithm provides a way to quantify that so that I could see the relative strength of each album.

To rate albums, the Music Ranking Algorithm factors in the percentage of the album that is good (i.e. the artist’s peak of the album) and how great that peak is as well as how much of an album is filler (or at a lower level than the best stuff) and how good that is. I also included a subjective “critical adjustment” to factor in how well the album met (from my perspective) expectations/hype, the introduction of new styles or elements, and how the album fits along the artist’s growth path. Sometimes releasing the “same” album twice is just what I want, but other times I expect something more or different, so I wanted to be able to account for that. When written out, the algorithm looks like this::

Rating = ((% Peak x Peak Rating)+(% Filler x Filler Rating)) x Critical Adjustment

The Peak and Filler Ratings each use a scale of 0 to 10, where:

0 = I could not finish the song because I was running to the bathroom to puke

1-2 = Will never listen to this again

3-4 = Might keep it in my iPod, but will likely skip it if it comes on.

5-6 = Will probably keep it in my iPod and may listen to it if it comes on.

7-8 = This will be in my rotation this month. Will listen or skip depending on mood.

8-9 = This will be in my rotation this year. May sometimes skip the track.

10 = This will still be in my rotation several years from now. Will almost never skip the track.

This one got a 10.

The Critical Adjustment Rating is based on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is low, 7 is high, and 4 is neutral, and the rest is…subjective. A score of 1 creates a critical adjustment factor of 0.97 (or -3%) and a score of 7 adds 3%, with the other possible scores falling in between. This allows a subjective tweak to the rating, but doesn’t change the overall score substantially.

With all of that out of the way, below are the top 17 albums I have listened to in 2013, fed through the algorithm. (This list consists of the albums that I have listened to more than a few times, so that I feel like I can give a solid review.)

1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

2. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

3. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

This song obviously isn’t on the Electric Lady, but is just an example of how fun Janelle Monae is live.

4. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium

5. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety

6. Mike Doughty – Circles…

7. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

8. Kopecky Family Band – Kids Raising Kids

9. The Mowgli’s – Waiting for the Dawn

10. Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends

I really like this song, but the video is very creepy.

11. Little Green Cars – Absolute Zero

12. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

13. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

14. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

15. HAIM – Days Are Gone

16. The Dodos – Carrier

17. Phoenix – Bankrupt!

Looking at the list, it seems like the algorithm did a pretty good job. The albums fall into an order that fits my appraisal of them and there are only a few surprises. I loved the Vampire Weekend album and thought it was one of the best I’ve heard in years. As the Elder J has mentioned, the latest Frightened Rabbit cd is not their best, but is very good. I really like Janelle Monae’s album and keep finding new favorite parts. Autre Ne Veut has some very strong songs but is scattered, so I’m really looking forward to his next album. Mike Doughty recreated some of his best Soul Coughing songs with mixed success. The Head and the Heart and Kopecky Family Band were both pleasant finds for me this year and both have a similar boy/girl vocal mix. The Mowgli’s, Portugal. The Man, and Little Green Cars are all fun and have some strong songs good for listening to with your windows down. Pearl Jam’s latest was solid, as usual. I was disappointed in the latest output from both the National and Arcade Fire. The former didn’t take enough risks, the latter took too many. I have enjoyed most of Phoenix’s work in the past, but Bankrupt was pretty terrible.

I was most surprised with the rankings of HAIM and the Dodos. HAIM’s songs are just pure sugar coated rock, but some of their songs are really really good and really really catchy. The Dodos’ latest album was one of their strongest, but apparently lacked enough truly great moments for the robot to rank it higher.

I’m looking forward to putting new albums through this test to see where they rank and to fine tune the process. Any ideas?

Thanks to the J’s for letting me share their platform. I already have some topics for future posts that should be slightly more exciting than a “best of” list. Until then, Happy New Year!

New Music: Palma Violets, Best of Friends

For the past few weeks, I have been a little obsessed with the track “Best of Friends” by Palma Violets. A few weeks back I underwent some paroxysm of music purchasing and ended up having to compose two posts about my acquisitions. The fact is that I found much of my new music forgettable–so much so that while running with @jake_turbo it took me a few seconds to recall that Okkervil River was the name of a band whose album I had recently purchased.

But this song: I’ve tweeted about it, I have tried to force my children to listen to it. I even brought it up in a class:

What is it I like about this band? There’s something old-school about the production value. The vocals are a bit raw; the music is a bit fun. And the sound altogether recalls some of the DIY days before digital music. There is an abandon and intensity to the song that seems part hardcore (the opening wail reminds me a bit of Fugazi’s “Repeater”) and a little bit punk (the song made me long for that old track “Time Bomb” by Rancid).

The rise of digital music, which has fragmented distribution a bit and has allowed additional artists access to the public, has resulted in a good deal of overproduction, slickness, and hollowness to music. Even bands that play ‘real’ music like Vampire Weekend seem too much the product of recording studio beautification. Even as I get older and hate noise more, I find myself attracted less to the packaged ‘purity’ of most mainstream music and longing for a dirtier sound.

Even if the dirt is manufactured, Palma Violets are giving me what I want.

Now, a band like Tullycraft might look askance on a punk/hardcore sound used to write love songs. I don’t. Can’t we get a little maudlin and mayhem at the same time?




Celebrate College Radio Day, October 1st

In the 1990 Christian Slater vehicle, Pump Up the Volume, a wise urban kid moves to a podunk town and sets up his own pirate radio with which he educates and terrorizes the town about music from the Beastie Boys and the Pixies to Leonard Cohen and Ice-T.  IN this suburban Phoenix no-town, no threat has been greater since Kevin Bacon stopped dancing than this: the youth’s access to the edgy, alt-music scene that has been eating away at the edifice of corporate cock-rock for several years.

Today is College Radio Day, a day to celebrate and recognize the achievements and contributions of College Radio. While the threat posed by Christian Slater doesn’t really mean that much any more (who’s going to worry about FM Radio when the internet can bring you child-porn and bomb-making instructions?), College Radio is still providing essential and rare service in an increasingly homogeneous and confused radio world. (If not for Public Radio and College Radio, Clear Channel might have ruined everything already).

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Written Elsewhere: Grantland’s Battle For the Best Song of the Millenium

If you don’t know you can probably make it through your life on a day-to-day basis without feeling like you’re living in a state of abject deprivation. Indeed, you can probably live more fully than if you’ve never read The New Yorker, Atlantic, or Harper’s (can you see my prejudice for traditional left-leaning print media?). But you haven’t had the opportunity to sample some of the more thorough, engaging and clever writing on the internet.

What does Beyonce have in common with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Wait for it…

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Songs for Teachers

My brother recently wrote about his struggles in working with middle school students. He and I talk a lot about education (even though we come at the topic from very different perspectives) and I have tried to commiserate with him, but I know that he has one of the hardest jobs in the world. Now, this post isn’t just an excuse to ramble on and list some of my favorite songs about teachers, but it is a recognition of the important connection between music and education as well as the critical work that teachers do.

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