Tuesday, March 31, 2009

MLB 2009 Season Preview - NL West

NL West Champions - Arizona Diamondbacks
At first glance, this looks like a deep division. All 5 teams have made the playoffs at some point this decade. Upon closer inspection, it’s actually just consistently mediocre. Last season the Dodgers took the division crown with a paltry 84 wins. That total would’ve been good for only 5th place in AL East or NL Central, or 4th place in NL East. With the division basically being a toss up, I think ‘Zona has the best chance of emerging from this year’s pack.
The Snakes are a very young and talented team. Their outfield of Chris Young, Conor Jackson, and Justin Upton has an average age of 24 ½. The infield starts nobody over 30. Their catching platoon of Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero is younger than 30. If everybody continues to progress from the previous couple of seasons, this team will be hitting heavy for years to come. On the pitching side, it’s much of the same story. Other than free agent addition Jon Garland to anchor the back end of the rotation, the staff is loaded with youthful talent. Sinkerballer extraordinaire Brandon Webb and finesse machine Dan Haren make up of the most potent 1-2 combinations in baseball. Young gun Max Scherzer has the makeup of a potential future ace with a devastating fastball paired with a plus-rated changeup and slider. The bullpen is solid with guys like Jon Rach, Tony Pena, Tom “Flash” Gordon, and Yusmerio Petit backing up freshly crowned closer Chad Qualls.
This team definitely has what it takes to make the postseason, however, they might still be a couple of years away from a deep run.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: 20 year-old phenom Jarrod Parker better be as good as advertised. The righty is reminding a lot of scouts of Giants pint-sized ace Tim Lincecum with his combination of velocity and control coming from such a diminutive frame. With his talent, he’ll probably get a shot in the D-Backs’ ‘pen by mid-season with a good shot of becoming a middle-rotation starter over the next couple years. However, Parker is Arizona’s only prospect currently rated in the Top 100 in baseball, so they’d better hope he’s the real deal or else their future may be now.

Los Angeles Dodgers
The “Manny being Manny” show is back for an encore at Chavez Ravine. After last season’s deadline deal with Boston brought the “Dominican Lou Gehrig” into Dodger Blue, Manny Ramirez ignited the team’s offense with a huge bat to carry them into the playoffs. After months of off-again-on-again negotiations finally ended in Manny resigning with L.A., the Dodgers are hopeful that ManRam can carry the team back to the promised land. Flanked by such up-and-coming stars as catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney and rightfielder Andre Eithier, combined with veterans Rafael Furcal at shortstop and newcomer Orlando Husdon at second, this offense will undoubtedly hit a lot of baseballs. The pitching staff is not what it once was, however, with youngsters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley providing the only real promise among the starters. The bullpen could be sneaky good with underrated guys like Hong Chi Kuo and Guillermo Mota supporting young closer Jonathan Broxton. The offense could rank among the game’s best, but with the pitching staff having so many holes, not even Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre should be able pull this team to a playoff berth.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: The Dodgers have a history of developing solid homegrown talent. This year, the organization is a little thin on projects with big time major league potential. The one guy I could see sniffing the big leagues at some point this season would be 2004 draft pick James McDonald. He sports a Zito-esque sick 12-6 curveball that has baffled minor league hitters and projects well enough to be a success pitch at the next level, as well as a plus change piece that he controls well and even sports a bit of late movement. He could eventually become a decent #3 or 4 starter down the road, but for now, it looks like he’ll get a shot as the 5th guy in the rotation after a nice showing out of the bullpen in last year’s playoffs.

Colorado Rockies

Only 2 years ago, this team stunned the baseball world on a stampede through the National League playoffs before finally running out of gas against Boston in the ’07 World Series. The bad news for Rox fans is that the catalyst of that season’s surprise run, an MVP-runner-up performance by Matt Holiday, will not be making an encore appearance this time around. Holiday was shipped off to Oakland in the offseason for a package of prospects including the highly rated Carlos Gonzalez along with closer Houston Street, so the Rockies’ bats may be in a world of trouble in ’09. Past-his-prime former All-Star first baseman Todd Helton, along with outfielder Brad Hawpe, third baseman Garrett Atkins, and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are essentially the only major league quality hitters in their lineup. Though Holiday didn’t contribute in the department, the pitching isn’t exactly in the best shape either. One-time ace Jeff Francis is already out for the entire 2009 season after having arthroscopic surgery in the offseason to help alleviate left shoulder problems that plagued him throughout most of the ’08 schedule and contributed to a paltry 4-10 record. Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, and Jason Hirsch all have pretty good upside as young starters…but Jason Marquis? Closers Street and Manny Corpas, plus late reliever Taylor Buchholz can all really throw, but that’s all they’ve got worth a crap. The only thing keeping this squad from the cellar is that there just so happens to be two really bad teams already basement-dwelling in this division.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Holiday was one of the best all-around players during his time in Denver. Hopefully, young stud Dexter Fowler can help pick up a little slack. Even with the “Coors Effect”, the offense will be awful unless this kid loves up to the expectations as a similar version of a young Andruw Jones. It shouldn’t be too difficult for him to take over a starting outfield spot from the likes of Ryan Spilborghs or Seth Smith, maybe even before Opening Day.

San Fran Giants

Tim Lincecum. That’s all about all I have to say about this team. At every position, they’re either too old, too young, or just plain not good. Lincecum is fresh off a Cy Young award from 2008, and, at only 24, the little dynamo looks like he could have a shelf full of them when it’s all said and done. Behind Timmy, the rotation actually isn’t terrible. Newcomer Randy Johnson, while not having much left in the tank, will undoubtedly seal his Hall of Fame bid with his 300th win at some point this season. Matt Cain along with lefties Jonathan Sanchez and Noah Lowry have all shown various shades of promise. (Ed Note: There is also a certain overpaid former Cy Young winner in the group that I’m not mentioning for the sake of all the Giants fans out there. I’d like to keep them from pulling all their hair out just seeing his name in print.)
The lineup, on the other hand, leaves a LOT to be desired. When Aaron Rowand, one of the 5 most overrated players in the game, is your best player, you are not a good ball club. Former All-Stars Edgar Renteria and Randy Winn can still from time to time. Thirdbaseman/catcher Pablo Sandoval has some potential down the road. Brian Wilson is a halfway decent closer. But when the rest of the roster leaves even a guy like me to say, “Uh…who?”, you are likely not fielding a competitive major league baseball team.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Well, now for the good news. San Fran has, by my count, 3 players that have potential to be special talents. Left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner is only 19, and already has one of the best fastballs in the minors (Top 20 prospect in all baseball). Angel Villalona is considered by many scouts to be the best Dominican hitting prospect in a decade. Catcher Buster Posey was the college player of the year his senior season at Florida State, and since then has blown through the minors on a fast track to taking the backstop duties from Bengie Molina very soon. All three of these guys are probably at least a year away, but at least they can help transform this Giants franchise desperate for some optimism.

San Diego Padres
What a way to celebrate the Padres 40th anniversary in San Diego! Last year, the team lost 99 ball games, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they broke the triple digit loss mark this time around. This team is awful. Don’t get me wrong, they have some nice players. Pitcher Jake Peavy is a true ace and still one of the best in the game. Newly minted closer Heath Bell was one of the best setup men in the league before taking the closer’s job following the departure of future Hall of Famer and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is one of the single most underrated big time players in baseball. And, if he can regain his 2007 All-Star form, starter Chris Young is a real top-rotation pitcher. Outside this short list, the Pads are a putrid bunch. David Eckstein and Brian Giles are both past their primes and were overrated to begin with. Cla Meredith is an above average reliever, but he’s one of only 3 guys currently on the roster (as of March 31) backing up Bell in the ‘pen. Besides Gonzalez and highly touted rookie Chase Headley (more on him to come), the batting order can be best described with a “dismissive wank motion”. At least the weather is perfect in SD, so the fans have something better to focus on all summer long.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: After brief call ups in each of the ’07 and ’08 seasons, Padres top prospect Chase Headley is slated to start the ’09 year as the starting left fielder. As valedictorian of his high school class, and an Academic All-American while in college at the University of Tennessee, Padres brass is confident this kid has the mental makeup to go along with real major league ability enough to produce a standout player both on and off the field.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Clip of the Week

Trailer: The Sinful Dwarf

This week's clip is the theatrical trailer for 1973's The Sinful Dwarf (AKA Dværgen). Man, oh man, do I want to see this movie. The R1 DVD drops tomorrow from Severin Films. Check out DVDActive's review here. It's one of the progenitors of one of the craziest exploitation genres ever, you guessed it, dwarfsploitation. Enjoy.

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Whalehead II

I know there are already two other posts
but I was planning on posting on every sabbath.


MLB 2009 Season Preview - AL West

AL West Champions – California Angels
(I'm tired of calling them that ridiculous "official" name)
Four Division title in the last five years is a pretty strong run in a division with only 4 teams. The Angels have emerged as a near lock to make the postseason in recent years on the strength of a multi-talented roster and solid coaching staff. Their pitching is strong and deep with 4 solid starters in John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Jered Weaver, plus former #2 man Kevlim Escobar who is recovered and due for a bounce-back year after suffering a season-ending shoulder ailment in 2008. The bullpen is among the game’s elite with new addition closer Brian Fuentes, veteran setup man Scott Shields, and young stud Jose Arredondo. The lineup is heavy on rake. Their outfield (the deepest in baseball) has 5 players that can hit over .285, including the newly acquired Bobby Abreu – one of the most underrated hitters in the game. All-Stars Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter have dipped in production in recent years but are still among the game top hitters. Third baseman Chone Figgins and Second baseman Howie Kendrick are two of the best hitters-for-average in the game. Losing slugger Mark Teixeira in the offseason was a major blow to their offense, but if youngsters Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, along with power-hitting catcher Mike Napoli can turn it on this year, this team will finish first. But, Angels fans better watch out…the Rangers aren’t that far back in the rear view.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: With last year’s 5th starter Jon Garland departing via free agency, righty stud Nick Adenhart should have a chance to fill that role to start the year. You could do a lot worse at #5 than a guy who is drawing comparisons to former NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter. Also, top positional prospect Shortstop Brandon Wood is ready to take on an extended major league role this year after destroying the minors for 3 years as the Halos top overall talent, and a brief cameo over the course of last season.

Texas Rangers

How good are the bats on this team? Well, they can threaten for the Wild Card this year while trotting out a starting rotation topped by Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, both of whom would be lucky to crack the top 3-4 on nearly any other team. This squad is LOADED with guys top to bottom with guys who can flat rake. Josh “The Natural” Hamilton is one of the top multi-talented players in the game, and one of the best resurrections stories in all of sports. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is one of my dark horse candidates to win the AL MVP this year (had he not gotten hurt at the end of last season, his numbers were every bit as good as Dustin Pedroia’s). All-Star veteran Michael Young has moved to 3rd base to accommodate incoming rookie stud Elvis Andrus, who looks like a younger, better Edgar Renteria. David Murphy was one of the best rookies in the AL last year. Nelson Cruz and Marlon Byrd are due for really solid years. Catching tandem Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are good, and still might not be as good a hitter as Venezuelan prospect Max Ramirez. Chris “Crush” Davis is a player who nearly every baseball scout is predicting to be a top tier slugger at first base.
Unfortunately, with all those bats, the team still doesn’t have enough arms to get it done over the course of a full season. But, in a couple years, this team will be VERY tough to beat.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: 20 year-old Dominican flamethrower Neftali Feliz is one of the highest rated pitching prospects in the game. This whiz kid compares favorably to “King Felix” Hernandez, but with more heart. He may have enough raw talent to get a sneak peak in the bigs later this year, but he’ll likely be a year or two away from making any kind of significant contribution.

Oakland Athletics
The Oakland glory days are long gone. For someone who grew up with the “Bash Brothers” and watched Rickey Henderson steal what felt like 40,000 bases, it feels strange to see the A’s in full blown rebuilding mode. There are a couple pieces on the roster that are worth building around, but this team still looks to be years away from true contention. The odd trade for outfield masher Matt Holiday definitely added some pop to the lineup. Bringing back old fan favorite slugger Jason Giambi was a nice move. Shortstop pickup Orlando Cabrera was a fantastic bargain in free agency. Masher Jack Cust is one of strongest hitters in all of baseball. The pitching looks a little thin up front with ace Justin Duchscherer looking like he could be a one-hit(year) wonder. The bullpen is fairly solid with Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler anchoring an underrated unit. But, overall, there’s not a lot to be excited about at The Coliseum for the 2009 season.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: After a strong showing for Team USA at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, righty starter Trevor Cahill seems a decent bet to start the season in the rotation for Oakland. Cahill is rated among the top 10 pitching prospects in the game, and so is lefty Brett Anderson. Anderson reminds a lot of scouts of another West Coast lefty phenom Clayton Kershaw, but might still be a year away. The traditionally pitching rich A’s have some bright youngsters again on the horizon.

Seattle Mariners
Not a lot of things make sense about this team. They traded away All-Star closer J.J. Putz without another closer waiting in the wings. Journeyman Russell Branyan looks like the opening day starter at first base. Carlos Silva might be the single worst starting pitcher on the planet. On the other hand, their outfield of Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, and future Hall of Famer Ichiro has a lot of athleticism, speed and range both in the field and at the plate. Third baseman Adrian Beltre can still hit for power. Former top pitching prospect Brandan Morrow is slated to take the reigns of the #2 spot in the rotation behind ace Felix Hernandez. It’s hard to peg which half of the roster will overcome the other. Ultimately, I feel like the worse half prevails this go around, and the M’s finish last in the West.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Slugging catcher Jeff Clement is rip roaring to go in the majors this year. After spending part of last season in the Bigs and turning in a .375 avg, .813 slg, and 2 HR, Clement should supplant Japanese import Kenji Johjima as the everyday catcher within a couple weeks of the season’s start.

Coming up: NL West

Cool Swag

Mini Cassette Tee: The Reward

Today's Cool Swag comes to us from Mini Cassette Tees. It's another t-shirt this time, called The Reward and it can be found here for twenty two bones. Obviously, it's a rad portrait of everyone's favorite zombie, Bub from Day of the Dead. I'm not too familiar with Mini Cassette Tees, as I've never ordered from them before.
The Reward from Mini Cassette Tees
I did order from a previous incarnation, known as Nostromo Design. As I recall, I had a little hitch with my order, but it was at a time when the company must have been in a state of flux (soon after, it appears to have disolved, and eventually came back as Mini Cassette). I did end up being satisfied with my order when all was said and done.

The site offers up some really excellent swag for both him and her. I'm really interested in The Zombie Tee and Mikey's Ride as well.

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Saturday, March 28, 2009

World Baseball Classic 2009: A Look Back at Team USA

World Baseball Classic 2009: A Look Back at Team USA

I'm one of those who really enjoy the WBC. TV ratings were up this year from last (see here), but still not quite as high as they should be in America. I stayed up and watched all of the USA's games, and a a lot of the other countries games as well. The built-in drama makes for great television. Watching the Netherlands beat the Dominican or America's bottom of the ninth come back against Puerto Rico for a walk off win to stave off elimination are absolutely thrilling.

The world wide popularity of the Classic is indisputable. The television viewership in Japan shattered records, ending up with a 37.8 TV rating (compared to our domestic ratings, which averaged out to a 1.3, still up from last year). At least twice as many people tuned in to the Classic as the Super Bowl (worldwide, that is). Hell, even Castro started writing opinion pieces on it.

So, why isn't the Classic on in every home in America? Certainly the sentiment of national pride is still prevalent in this post-911 America, and you'd think the opportunity to prove our dominance in America's past time would be a prime time smash. As it stands, Team USA was barely able to sell out Dodger Stadium for an elimination game.

The problem, I think, lies within the team itself. Where the other countries are fielding their best possible teams, America is not. Albert Pujols, Miggy Cabrera, Ichiro, and Jose Reyes are all top tier at their position, and they all played for their respective countries. I understand the limitations that come with playing in the Classic. I understand that injury risks, need to get work in in spring training, rehabbing, and being new to a Major League baseball team make it increasingly difficult to sign up for a roster spot on your country's team. But, let's just do a hypothetical here. I'm going to right out the best possible team that America could field, and we'll see how many of them actually played (players that played in the classic are in BOLD):

1b. Ryan Howard
1b(b). Mark Teixeira
2b. Ian Kinsler
2b(b). Dustin Pedroia
3b. David Wright
3b(b). Evan Longoria
SS. Jimmy Rollins
SS(b). Derek Jeter
C. Joe Mauer
C(b). Brian McCann
RF. Ryan Braun
RF(b). BJ Upton
CF. Josh Hamilton
CF(b). Grady Sizemore
LF. Matt Holliday
LF(b.)Carl Crawford
SP. Jake Peavy
SP. Josh Beckett
SP. Roy Halladay
SP. Tim Lincecum
SP. Brandon Webb
SP. C. C. Sabathia
RP. Joel Zumaya
RP. Jonathan Papelbon
RP. Joba Chamberlain
RP. Brian Fuentes
RP. BJ Ryan
BENCH: Michael Young
BENCH: Matt Kemp
BENCH: Cole Hamels

The team we fielded wasn't nearly this good. I'm also aware that Sizemore was originally supposed to be on the team. And, yes, I'm also aware that this team would be impossible to field. I've mentioned all the constraints involved here, and some of these guys definitely fall victim to them. But you get the picture. We could have a much stronger team.

The other problem with the team, of course, is that they treat the games like exhibitions. When Peavy was getting beat down by Puerto Rico, Davey Johnson left him in. Why? “Just basically let him get a little more work,” Davey Johnson explained. If we treat these games like practice, we will never win. The same thing happened with Roy Oswalt against Japan in the elimination game. Oswalt was getting shelled and Johnson just stuck with him, no real reason other than that Houston expects Oswalt to get some work in. And when he does go to the bullpen, Johnson still often picked the wrong guys situationally, one assumes so they could "get some work in" as well.

These handcuffs that Johnson was working with really handicapped the team. It both killed all momentum at times when it seemed the tide could turn, or sometimes completely stunted the team from the get go (like in the mercy-rule loss to Puerto Rico). If we ever really want to compete and win, we need to rectify these issues. Field the best team possible and play these games like the mean something, like our country's pride is at stake. The only problem is: how do we do that?

Unfortunately, I have no good answers for that one.

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SXSW 2009: A Day w/ Fair To Midland

“Good evening. We are cattle on the South By Southwest Auction Block.” – Darroh Sudderth, lead vocalist of Fair To Midland, on stage at Saturday night’s SXSW show on the roof deck at Maggie Mae’s in downtown Austin, TX

I had the pleasure of spending this past Thursday with Serjical Strike recording artists Fair To Midland to chronicle what it’s like to be a band at Austin, TX mega-festival South By Southwest. Over the course of the day, we had a lot of fun, but I was also enlightened as to how the artists feel during an event described in one word by bassist Jon Dicken as “hectic”.

While the music fans in attendance may feel taken advantage of because of the exorbitant prices they have to shell out ($180 for non-Austin residents) to see “over 1800 bands from around the world” (most of which are bands that barely fill their own local venues), the bands themselves are looked upon by event organizers as nothing more than show ponies. They’re shuffled in and out of clubs and restaurants with little to no regard for all the time, money, and energy these entertainers sacrifice just to be here, let alone try and give the showgoers their money’s worth. Over the course of my day here, I’ll bear witness to many examples of the bands being taken for granted (especially when considering how much this huge musical jubilee makes in revenue for the city). For the people on hand, they may never realize what’s going on in the strange back alleys of Austin for their audio enjoyment.

11:20am - I'm out the door and on my way downtown. Traffic is insane, unusually packed for this time of day on a Thursday. While Austin isn't exactly known for its smooth traffic flow, today's particular version of congestion is especially nerve-racking when there are so many out-of-towners that have descended on Austin like wolves in the Spanish Sahara (wink). I head over to my buddy John's house where the band has crashed for the night. We puff a smoke, load into the van, and start the trudge through the swamps of cars all fighting their way to the same place.

11:45am - FTM frontman Darroh Sudderth, sitting in the far back seat of the van, relieves himself into an empty water bottle while stopped at a busy stop light on South Congress Ave. There are about 75 people within 10 yards of our vehicle. Living the rock and roll dream...

1:35pm - We all finally arrive in downtown Austin, and, of course, it's a giant clusterfcuk. It appears as though 30 million people have decided to show up for this year’s festivities. All of the parking areas are either full or don’t accommodate our trailer. We end up having to park about 18 blocks away (for those familiar with Austin, we parked off the I-35 service road near the exit for Riverside) and start hoofing it to the convention center for the guys to check in.

Guitarist Cliff Campbell: “It’s nice to see that they work so hard to make it as painless as possible for the bands to come down here and play. Where the hell are we supposed to park a van with a trailer in the middle of a downtown area when there are so many people here? You’d think they’d actually care to help out the bands.” One would think…

2:15pm - I am sweating like crazy. We walk what feels like 10 miles before we finally make it to the check in desk. Everyone (except me, much to my chagrin) picks up their wristband and we convene outside. Dicken and I decide we want to grab a bite for lunch while the rest of the guys opt to head back to the van for some rest. So, with everyone else making that hellacious trek back, Jon and I hit up Roppolo's Pizza on 6th for some quick grub. We chat for a little bit about the SXSW experience for a band. Asked to describe the event from the perspective of an artist, he responds, “Exhausting.” He goes on to tell me about how his favorite part of the week is when they’ve finished playing. “After we’re done, we can just walk around, meet people, and catch up with old friends from the road. The whole process isn’t very band-friendly considering how many bands come in for it. The only reason I’d ever want to play South By, is if we had a record to showcase for the fans. Other than that, we’re just showcasing ourselves to all the industry people. It’s not very well laid out for either the fans or the bands. I much prefer big outdoor festivals like Coachella.”

3:15pm - After we eat we decide to walk over to The Chuggin Monkey for an afternoon cocktail to get a head start for the rest of the night. This will ultimately prove to be a bad decision...While walking down to the bar, we run into Troy Zeigler, drummer for Serj Tankian's backing band FCC. He and Jon know each other from FTM's days touring with Serj. Troy is a really cool, down-to-earth guy who tells us about how he's currently on tour drumming for Juliette Lewis' new band, how much fun they're having, and how he’s “super excited” (sarcastically) to be playing 6 shows this week. I’m noticing a recurring theme among the opinions of the performers gathered here.

- We get to The Chuggin Monkey and snag a seat on the back patio. Two Jager shots serve as a nice booster shot for a long day of drinking. We then chat for a while about what we’ve been listening to lately, and then catch up about how the writing process is coming along for the next Fair To Midland album. According to Jon, this record will be a lot darker than the previous release, and has been a much different writing style for the band. He lets me know that they'll be playing three new songs at this afternoon's showcase. (...at least that was the intent...)

- Jon gets a call from Cliff that it's time to load in at Maggie Mae's, the venue for the Affliction Clothing Party they're playing this afternoon, so we walk a block over and around to the back alley. While waiting, Darroh decides to take a leak behind a dumpster in the alleyway. Looking down at the ground, he notices a cell phone on the ground sitting only about 6 inches away from the shower. “Hey, somebody left their phone on the ground back here,” he turns and says to Jon and me. When he looks back, a hand emerges from the darkness behind the receptacle and grabs the phone. Darroh leaps what appears to be about 3 feet in the air right as a face pops out to say, “Jesus loves you”. Keep Austin Weird, indeed.

4:15 – As we’re loading the equipment into the club’s back room, we find pro skateboarder Mike Vallely (who fronts opening act Revolution Mother as a side venture) punching himself in the back room before their set. Either he's getting pumped up, or trying to dull the pain of being here. “Rev Mutha”, as their fans have dubbed them, put on an entertaining set that reminds me of a hybrid of ZZ Top, Motorhead, and Pantera. Vallely is a crowd pleaser, and guitarist Jason Hampton at one point even tight-rope walks down the arm rail next to the stage while dishing out a blistering solo. Not exactly the type of band that I envisioned on the same bill as Fair To Midland, but paired with my cold, canned Budweiser they feel just right.

5:10 – FTM takes the stage about 40 minutes later than originally slated. As I’m told by the event coordinator, all the early bands went over their time limit, and she’s freaking out because there is still one band after Fair To Midland left to play. This poses a bit of a problem…

The boys launch right into the set with probably the heaviest song they’ve ever written. It’s called “Rikki Tikki Tavi”, and basically sounds like a parody of their early “Carbon Copy” era sound. Sudderth commands the eager crowd to “Listen to me”, before erupting into a spinning, stomping, flailing maniac, while Campbell and Dicken crunch and soar over drummer Brett Stowers heavy thump. The song gets the crowd into motion as people begin to rush in from other rooms to catch a glimpse of what is causing all the commotion. Right as the Gibson Room begins to fill to the brim and the crowd starts buzzing, the intro to old fan favorite “Walls of Jericho” gets everyone ready to rumble. The opening stutter lick brings everyone in closer to the stage, and pianist Matt Langley provides a soothing ambient underlay. After the frenzied whiplash ending of “Walls”, the groove of new song “Musical Chairs” is a welcome reprieve. The song sounds much like the natural evolution of tracks such as “Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes” from the band’s previous full length release “Fables From A Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True”. It is a very polished mature sound, while still having a distinct “FTM” twist to it. (The song is actually so new, Sudderth explains, that the song doesn’t even have completed lyrics. At this stage, it’s mostly ad-libbed.) “Chairs” sounds like exactly the type of song that could catapult the band to the big stages (or at least better parking spaces). A super “hooky” chorus melody makes the song fun to sing along to, while the instrumentals are funky enough to keep your head moving. Look forward to hearing this one everywhere soon.

5:30 – That’s right. It’s only 5:30 (a mere 20 minutes after taking the stage), and the event coordinator leans up to Campbell and notifies him that they will need to exit the stage to allow time for the last band to set up and play before the venue gets taken over by SXSW shows at 6:00. Dicken turns around from re-tuning his bass to see that his singer has left the scene, and the crowd is reacting with thunderous boos. Campbell takes to the mic to speak to the crowd. “They’re kicking us off since all the other bands went too long. Yeah, let ‘em know how that makes you feel!” he says, to which the crowd responds with obscenity-laced outbursts of displeasure. He then goads them by exclaiming, “They’re probably just doing this to us since we’re from Texas!” followed by the crowd screaming at the venue workers while the band breaks down their equipment. After the show, Jon looks at me and says, “You know what? I was feelin’ kinda tired after the second song anyway. Now I can spend the rest of the night actually having a good time.”

I ask Darroh how it feels to be removed mid-set:

“Yeah, that’s about right. We’re like worms on a hook out there. At least they didn’t use the old Vaudeville-style cane to yank us off.” It’s tough to muster up any positivity at this point.

6:10 – After getting all the crates and crates of gear moved outside and ready to load up into the van, Cliff heads off on a mission to bring back the van. 20 or so minutes later, Cliff returns to the loading zone sans van. The van was allegedly parked illegally and was towed away. I ask the guys how they feel about the situation:

Matt: “We parked where they told us to park, and now its load out time and the damn van is not where we left it. Austin, TX would like to welcome all bands to SXSW with open arms.”
Brett: “Actually, I gotta tell ya, I feel pretty good about it. I was really…I came down here with the mindset that I need to “work”, maybe “haul some gear”, maybe “work off some of this gut”, you know…And now it looks like I’m gonna get to accomplish that. So, I feel pretty alright about it.”

Darroh: “I think it’s super sweet.”

Me: “How about that 15 minute set?”
Darroh: “I think it’s super sweet.”

7:45 – Cliff finally returns with the van, and we get everything all loaded up. As Cliff heads off to find another (legal) place to park, we all decide to walk over to the Spaghetti Warehouse on 4th street since it’s the only please within a reasonable walking distance that shouldn’t be packed to the max with tourists. After all, there are an estimated 150,000 people that come from all over the globe for the largest interactive multimedia festival in the world. They’re bound to want to eat somewhere more “local” than SpagHouse…

9:15 – When we finish eating, everyone decides that the Tori Amos show over at La Zona Rosa is where they’re gonna head. However, since I don’t have a wristband, I can’t get in. Dicken turns to me and says, “Dude, It’s not 1996. I don’t care about going to see Tori Amos. I’m with you.” So Jon and I decide to meander over and go meet up with some of his old tour buddies at some bars on 6th.

9:40 – Our first stop is a semi-swanky Polynesian-themed cocktail bar called Malaia to meet up with the guys from Shreveport, LA band Tyler Read, with whom Fair To Midland toured with opening for Chevelle back in the fall of ’07. They’ve just finished watching the 8:00 show of fellow Louisiana alterna-punk outfit Meriwether. We all kick back a few drinks and relax despite how uptight the bar feels. We decide to venture elsewhere for a more accommodating venue.

– We mosey over to The Jackalope to meet up with Josh Johnson, the singer from Tyler Read, and say hello. We run into Steve Bergeron, the guitar player from Meriwether, and the dude is hilarious. He shakes my hand, then leans in and says, “I feel like I’m walking on the moon,” to which I reply, “You probably are.” These are the good times of SXSW. Josh, Jon, and I chat for a bit about music videos (Tyler Read just recently shot a video for “Baby’s Got A Temper”), and how people want to see the band in the video. After all, people buy the record to hear the music, but they buy tickets to the show to see a performance. This is a topic Darroh and I would discuss again at dinner before their show on Saturday night relating to his onstage antics. He often gets stressed before a show worrying about whether or not things will go as planned, and if the crowd will be “into” their performance. When I tell him that people don’t care about the sound as much as they want to be entertained, he retorts, “Yeah, that’s why there is so much pressure.”

“All these people are here to be entertained. I understand that people focus more on the singer when they watch a band, so it’s on my shoulders to make sure they get to see what they came to see. The hardest part is that the things that I do onstage for our fans wreak havoc on my body. Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep this up. My back hurts all the time. After some shows [like the one they play on Saturday night] I can barely walk because my hips and legs are jacked up. Most nights when the show is over I feel like hell, but I go out there anyway because I appreciate everyone that supports us and I feel like I owe it to them to keep going. I want people to enjoy the show, but I also want to be able to walk upright when I’m 40.”

– Jon and decide to check up with everybody else to see what they’re doing. We head out on a manhunt to try and find Darroh over at Emo’s. Across the street from Emo’s, we see a street musician playing very complex beats on some plastic and metal buckets and bowls. Even artists with no actual instruments are trying to be discovered at South By. This guy totally rocks, so while Jon ventures inside to find Darroh, I grab a seat on the sidewalk and watch this apparently homeless Buddy Rich.

12:05 – Jon comes back outside, but couldn’t find Darroh through the masses of people inside. Every venue is a madhouse. We decide to walk back over to Maggie Mae’s where our aforementioned buddy John (the one whose house the band was staying at) was working as a bartender. So John, Jon, and Jonathan (me) are hanging out in the small pub side at Maggie’s and sipping some whiskey. [That sounds like the beginning of a shitty joke.] John (who is working despite having been partying all day and all the night before) decides that my drink needs more punch. He grabs the Jack Daniel’s bottle and aims it toward my glass. Just in the nick of time, I was able to pull it away (at this point, I’ve been drinking for about 10 hours and I’m definitely feeling it). So, the spout of the bottle is now pointed at the girl next me and John proceeds to pour about a shot and a half of whiskey directly on her back. She turns to me and says, “What the fuck did you do that for?!”

I think every single person in this whole city is drunk. It’s been a long day.

– Cliff, Brett, and Matt call to tell us that they’re ready to start walking back to the van. We finish our drinks, and start walking over to The Parish to meet up with everybody. On the journey to find the van, Jon starts feeling the effects of the day’s libations and starts to get a little “choked up”…Right in front of a cop car. But apparently, cops don’t care if all 100,000 SXSW patrons are drunk.
As we’re walking, we notice a young woman passed out on the steps of a downtown building. Seeing this as a fitting image of the average SXSW partygoer, I decide to stop and snap of photo. But, not before Darroh sits down next to her, puts his arm around her and smiles big for the camera. These guys are nothing if not gentlemen…

As Brett and I are capturing this moment of intimacy, 3 ladies walk by and see him sitting there with the girl and all say, “Wow. You’re a great friend for staying with her.” This is probably the first time all day that he’s been shown appreciation.

While we walk, I’m asking the guys how they felt overall with the days events, and if they felt it was generally representative of the SXSW experience. Darroh says to me, “We’re treated like inventory with a short shelf life. We do this all for our fans, but, unfortunately, they’re priced out from being able to afford to come see these shows. We’re basically tap dancing chimps for the industry choads. But, then again, beggars can’t be choosers. If we don’t play these kind of events, we can’t get ourselves such a widespread audience. Most people that see us play at these shows would never like us. But, maybe there’s one or two that do and then it’s worth it. I just wish it wasn’t so much about whoring ourselves out for the suits, and more about the bands that work so hard to come here only to be treated like they should feel lucky to even be here.”

“Other than that, I just want a Prilosec.”

I guess that’s what SXSW does to you.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Clip of the Week

This is probably the best new metal band I've found in the last 5-6 years. And without question the weirdest. Enjoy.

iwrestledabearonce - "Tastes like Kevin Bacon"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Films From the Crypt - Episode 1: The Entity

Films From the Crypt - Episode 1 - The Entity (1981)

Tagline: "There is no escape from something you cannot see."

Director: Sidney J. Furie

View the trailer

Starring: Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, Alex Rocco

Welcome to the newest addition to the 'choke, this is Films From the Crypt. In this section, we will be reviewing mostly older, relatively obscure movies that you may have let slip through the cracks. Some will be good, others, not so much. Some of the reviews may end up being on more recent fare, but in general I'm here to tackle some of those greats oldies. I'm looking forward to it.

For the first episode, I am reviewing the 1981 horror/thriller The Entity, starring the late Ron Silver and Barbara Hershey. Warning, here there will be minor spoilers.

The film begins mundanely enough, following single mother Carla Moran (the delectable Barbara Hershey) as she travels from work, to her adult education classes, and finally home to see her children. Once she has said goodnight to her little ones, Carla goes into her bedroom to relax when, all of a sudden, she is raped! By a ghost! That's right. Ghost-raped. Of course, I'm making light of the situation to hide the fact that I, too, was once ghost-raped.

In all seriousness, I give director Sidney J. Furie credit because he's able to play the scenario completely straight and actually do it well. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find enough camp in this movie to be able to really make fun of it while watching it, which is some feat considering the subject matter. Just to be clear, The Entity is really an effective horror film.

The entire film revolves around Carla Moran and her being attacked again and again by an unseen, malign force. She is continously raped and beaten by this invisible entity, and she finally decides to seek professional help. After a particularly scary incident for her, when the ghost takes control of her car as she is driving, Carla decides to go to a clinic where she meets psychologist Phil Sneiderman (the excellent Ron Silver) who really takes an interest in Carla's case.

Through-out the course of the film, Carla remains fairly unsure about her own sanity, and we are privy to a handful of different sessions that she has with Dr. Sneiderman. Of course, Sneiderman is the requisite scientist/skeptic (that may or may not be trying to slime his way into Carla's pants himself) that does not believe Carla is being attacked by a ghost, but that it is all in her head, and he eventually even almost gets her to believe that. Unfortunately for Dr. Sneiderman's case, eventually there are witnesses to this ghostly madness, and Carla is finally able to deal with the reality of the situation.

Eventually, the local university's parapsychology department takes an interest in Carla, and this is where things get really strange. The department head, after a series of tests, decides to set up a trap to catch the entity. This trap is merely a reconstruction of Carla's home inside a gymnasium, with liquid hydrogen set to freeze it. Does it work? Well, I guess you'll have to watch and find out.

The Entity is truly a bizarre film. I don't know that a movie with an invisible antagonist, that continually and brutally rapes a woman would be made today. It's an extremely ambitious production, that may not always hit on all cylinders, but continues to be effective and creepy today. It's a completely bloodless horror movie that works, go figure. Supposedly, it's based on a true story (and not in that Texas Chainsaw Massacre way, but for real) about a woman who experienced events very closely resembling those in the film. The acting is nothing short of phenomenal, with the two leads really doing a great job, especially Hershey, having to interact with nothing but the air.

My biggest complaint is in the pacing. The film has an exceptionally long run time for this kind of picture (clocking in at 125 minutes) that seems to lag a little bit, especially in the second and third acts. As far as production is concerned, the limited amount of visual effects are done really well. Interestingly enough, the late Stan Winston handled the "special makeup effects". It really is an above average picture, that is truly strange and ready to be discovered by you, loyal reader. And, hey, it's a poltergeist movie that predates Poltergeist.

If you've missed The Enitity, unfortuanately you may have a hard time finding a copy as the Anchor Bay DVD is currently out of print. You can always find used copies on Amazon, but they can run anywhere from $25-$30. Hopefully we'll see a Blu Ray release in the future, but I'm not holding my breath. It's always these typs of entertaining little genre films that don't make the jump to the next generation of technology.


- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cool Swag

Mondo Tees - Director's/Metal Shirts

Today we are going to look at a store that is actually located inside the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Mondo Tees, specifically their "director's series" shirts. Pictured inside this text is obviously a Martin Scorsese shirt, but done in the Scorpions font. These things are awesome. I saw Eli Roth wearing the Bergman/Maiden shirt in a video interview one time and had to figure out where he got it. They also have: Herzog/Danzig, Ozu/Ozzy, Fassbinder/Metallica, Von Trier/Van Halen, De Palma/Def Leppard, and Bela Tarr/Black Flag. A marriage of metal and great film? I'm sold. They run $20 a piece. And I do plan on buying one or two.

They also have a good selection of other t-shirts as well, including an entire Daniel Johnston section and a super cool Badass Cinema section. Check them out, there is lots of good stuff.

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Clip of the Week

Trailer Edition

Every so often, there are enough trailers to take up a handful of Clip of the Weeks. At that juncture, I like to toss them all into one "Trailer Edition" of CotW. And, as you might've guessed, it's that time. We'll probably have a couple more of these in the near future (once we get trailers for films like A Serious Man and Forgiveness come out).

Best Worst Movie is premiering at South By Southwest soon and Mystery Team is actually scheduled to play at Sundance this year. Excellent.

Best Worst Movie

Mystery Team

Public Enemies

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Saturday, March 14, 2009

MLB 2009 First Pitch Preview - AL East

Spring is in the air again, and that means it's time to get geared up for another year with America's pasttime. This will be a multi-part series on my predictions and analysis on each team in each division in Major League Baseball (** denotes Wild Card winner). The teams are listed in order from top to bottom of their respective divisions. I will also be churning out a full scale preview on my picks for all the awards, as well as predictions for each round of the playoffs.

I have also included a "Help Is On The Way" section to identify the top prospects for each club that could be making a big league impact soon.

And away we go...

AL East Champions- Tampa Bay Rays
What’s not to like about this team? I hear a lot of chatter from some other baseball writers about the “cooldown” or “letdown” year this team is susceptible to, but I’m just not buying into that idea. They have a bit of everything, each piece is talented, young, and hungry to keep changing the way people have historically thought about the franchise. The team is almost virtually unchanged from the squad that not only posted the first winning season in club history, but also won a very tough AL East division title, gutted out a 7-game ALCS win over a heavily favored Boston team defending a world championship for their first AL pennant before running out of gas against Philly in the World Series. The only changes made were to trade away 5th starter Edwin Jackson to make room in the rotation for über talented super-rookie David Price (a MAJOR upgrade) and filling their gaping hole at DH for the streaky yet big-swinging Pat “The Bat” Burrell. Their bullpen is very deep with talent, both righties and lefties, and the back end is pretty solid with Dan Wheeler and flamethrower Grant Balfour setting the table for veteran closer Troy Percival. Along with Price, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza form a quite formidable starting rotation with perhaps the highest ceiling of potential in the major leagues. Their positional lineup features excellent defensive players while being consistent contributors at the plate as well. 2008 AL Rookie of Year Evan Longoria is poised to be a big time player for a long time, as are centerfielder B.J. Upton, and catcher Dioner Navarro. They have all the tools to not only win the division again this year, but compete for the crown for years to come.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: 2008 #1 overall draft pick Tim Beckham, a shortstop with legit 5-tool talent who probably won’t see the bigs for another couple years, but is already, at 19, more talented that current starter Jason Bartlett. His ceiling is comparable to a young, healthy Nomar Garciaparra.

New York Yankees**
My goodness. After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, The Bronx Bombers decided to pull out all the stops to reload before moving into the new stadium. It’s been said before that “the Yankees don’t rebuild, they reload.” Never was that adage more true than this offseason when The Pinstripes went out and signed all 3 of the top available free agents on the market this winter. Facing the retirement of potential Hall of Famer and recent 20-game winning pitcher Mike Mussina, combined with the underdevelopment of former top pitching prospects Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, the Yanks inked the top 2 pitchers available in 2007 Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia and former All-Star starter A.J. Burnett for a combined $340+ million to shore up their thin starting rotation. With Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu both departing via free agency, the Yankees solidified up their lineup with a $180 million deal for switch hitting, Gold Glove winning first baseman Mark Teixeira. It sure is expensive to miss the playoffs in New York…
After all that though, New York has what looks to be a pretty deep roster that is good enough to beat anybody on any given day. Their starting rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, two-time 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, lefty veteran Andy Pettitte, and young gun Joba Chamberlain is one of the most potent and versatile in the big leagues. Their lineup is deep and will certainly be among the highest scoring in the game, headlined by Teixeira, 3-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, 9-time All-Star and Captain Derek Jeter, and switch-hitting slugger, catcher Jorge Posada. The bullpen is also deep with future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera leading a group that includes lefty setup man Damaso Marte, full-season rookies Alfredo Aceves (R) and Phil Coke (L), promising youngster Mark Melancon (who many predict will be the heir to Rivera’s throne as closer), and the Bugs Bunny changeup of Edwar Ramirez. Defense won’t be this teams’ strong suit, and, because of that, they’ll give up a fair share of runs. However, the potency of the batting order (25-home run hitter Xavier Nady and .300 career hitter Robinson Cano will bat 7th & 8th respectively) will overcome more than a couple of runs against. They should narrowly edge out Boston and Texas for the AL Wild Card spot.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: The Yankees have a pretty sizable hole in center field as of now, but Austin Jackson is on his way to taking the full time gig from Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner, possibly as early as this summer. Jackson has been the Yank’s top prospect for the last few years and projects as a B.J. Upton-type player at the next level. For Yankee fans wondering what will happen when Jorge Posada ages too much to catch full time (which might have already happened), catching prospect Jesus Montero, who reminds many of Posada only more advanced for his age, is one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball and is still only 19 years old. He may be major league ready enough for perhaps a late September call up, but is most likely a couple years away from seeing regular action.

Boston Red Sox
Red Sox Nation has a lot to cheer for right now. Their beloved BoSox ended their infamous title drought in dramatic fashion in 2004 and won it all again in 2007. The re-tooled Celtics are the defending NBA Champs. The Patriots, despite falling short of their perfect season dream in 2007 and suffering through a Brady-less season in ’08, have still banked 3 Lombardi Trophies this decade. The Bruins are looking like a strong favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup this June. But, this year’s Red Sox club will, I predict, bring the fans back into this stratosphere. Not that I don’t believe the team is good. They are. Unfortunately, with the Yankees re-upping the ante and the Rays loaded for the foreseeable future, there can only be two teams make the playoffs from the division. Make no mistake, this team will compete. Their lineup, despite losing Manny Ramirez, is still stout. 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia and infield neighbor All-Star Kevin Youkilis can flat out rake. ’08 Deadline acquisition Jason Bay has the ability to perform a suitable job replacing Mr. Ramirez (that is, if anyone of the last half century can). JD Drew is, while still not deserving of his bloated contract, a very good major league hitter. David Ortiz is due for a bounce back year after struggling with some nagging injuries the past couple years, and regain his form as one of the most feared sluggers on the planet. Not to mention their pitching, which easily makes up for some of their offensive inadequacies (I’m looking at you, Mr. Varitek). Josh Beckett is still one of the premier aces in Major League Baseball, and Jon Lester has made “the leap” into the realm of All-Star-caliber starters. Japanese dynamo Daisuke Matsuzaka might be the best #3 starter around. Any team could do considerably worse than having newcomers John Smoltz and Brad Penny battling to earn the 5th spot in the rotation. The bullpen features a core group of youngsters that are the real deal. All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon is one of the most feared closers there is, Justin Masterson, while ultimately projecting as a top-middle rotation guy, is currently wreaking havoc out of the ‘pen, and Manny Delcarmen keeps getting better every year.
Unfortunately, unless youngsters like centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and shortstop Jed Lowrie blow away expectations and take their games to the next level, the Sawks will fall short of the postseason and The Nation will spend their October cheering for the Celts, Bruins, and Pats.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: “Youk” had better keep that third baseman’s mitt handy. At some point very soon, Mike Lowell will no longer be able to man the hot corner. Luckily, when Youkilis moves back to 3rd, Big Papi won’t have to be left to fumble around at 1st. Big time slugger Lars Anderson is one of the heaviest hitters tearing up the minors, and Boston will be looking to bring him up to the big club soon to further bolster the lineup. Righty starter Michael Bowden will likely land in Fenway by mid-2009 as a spot starter/reliever, and has the potential to be a Kevin Millwood-type starter down the road.

Toronto Blue Jays
86 wins make for a halfway decent season for most clubs. Unfortunately for The Canuck Birds, it’s only good for a disappointing 4th place in the rugged American League East division. That must be sad for this club to work so hard (and field an above-average roster, by the way) only to continue with a playoff drought that dates back to their 1993 World Series win. That’s right, they haven’t even made the postseason since they won their last chip. Toronto has some nice pieces in place, too. Workhorse Roy Halladay is truly one of the elite starters in the game, and is the definition of an ace. For the last 5+ years, Halladay has been among the league leaders in innings pitched, complete games, ERA, and strikeouts. Roy is supported by one of the American League’s more sneaky-good bullpens featuring righty Jeremy Accardo and closer BJ Ryan. The Jays are one of the better defensive clubs in baseball, and with guys like All-Star outfielders Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, and veteran third baseman Scott Rolen, they can hit as well. The bad news is, unless one these first 3 clubs listed above suddenly change divisions, Toronto will be stuck in 4th looking up at the rest of the division for the foreseeable future.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Help is coming very soon for this club with top hitting prospect Travis Snider slated to start the season up with the big club, and possibly taking over the full-time leftfield job as early as May. Snider has shown a propensity to strike out a bit at this level after a brief September call-up last year, but when he makes contact, he can absolutely crush the ball. With a kid who’s comparable to Jason Bay in terms of ability, it’ll only be a matter of time for this 20 year old to catch on.

Baltimore Orioles
Well, the good news is that there are some exciting young players on the roster. The bad news is that those youngsters have a lot to overcome in order to become a winning ball club. Put it this way: When arguably the best pitcher on your staff is overrated closer George Sherrill, you could obviously be fielding a better squad. The outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam “Don’t Call Me Pac-Man” Jones, and Felix “The Cat” Pie are as young and multi-talented as there is. All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, despite his ties to the infamous Mitchell Report, is still a steady glove and consistent bat at the top of the order. Outside that, this team is, put nicely, awful. The pitching starved Rangers couldn’t wait to rid themselves of the atrocious Adam Eaton, yet the O’s have him penciled in as their #4 starter. Former dynamite Cubs prospect Rich Hill was given away for “A Player To Be Named Later”, and he’s the #2 man. Jeremy Guthrie is a #3 or #4 starter masquerading as an ace. Unless something drastic happens, this Orioles team will be bottom dwellers for a long, long time.
HELP IS ON THE WAY: Catcher Matt Wieters, Baltimore’s #5 overall draft pick in the first round of the 2007 MLB amateur draft, is poised to take over full-time backstop duties this year. After tearing up minor league pitching and going through the entire farm system in only 2 years, Wieters, who as a switch hitting catcher with some pop reminds some of a young Jason Varitek, should supplant veteran Gregg Zaun in the everyday lineup by May. He’s regarded by most scouts as the best pure hitting prospect in all of baseball.

Coming Soon: AL West...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2006, Pt. 1

Top Ten of '06

Here are Jordan's picks for the best of 2006.

1. Deftones - Saturday Night Wrist - When Saturday Night Wrist came out, I left it in my CD player for three monthes. No kidding. The record is like if you painted a picture of a stunning, naked beauty, but instead of paint, used sludge and muck from the sewer. It's wonderful. It's not the Deftones peak of musical ability, but it is their highest artistic peak as far as song-writing.

Stand-out tracks - Hole in the Earth, Beware, Kimdracula, Xerces

2. Bob Dylan - Modern Times - Dylan is back. Again. I swear, this man is some kind of miracle. Modern Times is a bluesy, twangy, swingy, deep, rich, and amazing record. Again, it's Dylan. We get Dylan's version of classic blues motifs and melodies, melding in those classic themes like lamenting lost love and questioning God, with Dylan's poet's command of language and sentiment.

Stand-out tracks - Thunder on the Mountain, The Levee's Gonna Break

3. Pearl Jam - S/T - Pearl Jam re-emerges from pretty much obscurity with this, their eighth studio record. The band has evolved into something of an anachronistic totem in the midst of all the changes in music. They still play The Who style stadium-guitar rock, write socio-political songs, and want a little bit of crunch in their guitars and may have a solo or two. This album propels them further in to that role, with blue-collar anthem "Unemployable" and intro/retrospective songs like "Life Wasted" and commentary songs like "World Wide Suicide". And I am enjoying the hell out of, because I like The Who, I like Bruce Springsteen, and I like Pearl Jam.

Stand-out tracks - Unemployable, Life Wasted, Gone

4. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife - This is The Decemberists fourth album, and their first on a major label (Capitol). Fortunately, the band has kept in tact their tendency of intelligent, inventive song writing. Colin Meloy really anchors the band with his literate and fanciful lyrics that make for great storytelling, and his fantastically unique voice. The Crane Wife is a more than worthy follow-up to their final album with Kill Rock Stars, Picaresque.

Stand-out tracks - O Valencia!, Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then), Summersong

5. Band of Horses - Everything All The Time - This is the Seattle band's second album (or first, depending on what chronology you want to use) to make my "top list". The best thing about the record is that no matter how intimate the material, lyrically, we are rarely pandered to with balladry or less intensive vocals. Even on the acoustic "St. Augustine", Ben Birdwell still carries it by only softening a little bit. Birdwell does us all a service there, becuause his vocals are really the driving force behind the band, being its best instrument of all. The timbre is something like Neil Young, but with better use of pitch and more melodious. Good stuff.

Stand-out tracks - The Great Salt Lake, The Funeral

6. Ghostface Killah - Fishscale - Ghostface's fifth solo album is, in this reviewers opinion, his absolute peak. Delivering his patented imagery-heavy rhymes accompanied by some very good beats (even without RZA), Ghostface takes us back to the Slick Rick days a little bit with tracks like "Shakey Dog", in which we witness some of that classic, story-tellin' rap. Good stuff.

Stand-out tracks - Shakey Dog, 9 Milli Bros

7. Mastodon - Blood Mountain - A very strong follow-up to the Moby Dick concept album Leviathan, Blood Mountain is just as balls out and in your face, but with even more of weird folklore imagery. Now, of course, mythology has been a metal staple for years, but I don't recall ever hearing a song about a "Cysquatch" (that being a half-cyclops, half sasquatch hybrid). Sonically, Mastodon are terrific. Drummer Brann Dailor kicks provides a driving force behind the band that really sets the tone. It's a tight, very technically proficient albums filled with terrifying woodland creatures, what's not to love about that?

Stand-out tracks - Colony of Birchmen, Capillarian Crest

8. Johnny Cash - American V: A Hundred Highways - This was Cash's final album, released posthumously, and he sounds absolutely exhausted on it. The bare, stripped down perfomance suits Cash in his final days. The majority of the songs are covers (including the Springsteen song "Further On Up the Road", which is a stand out), with just Johnny and an acoustic guitar. Rick Rubin has provided us with an extremely bittersweet retrospective of Johnny Cash through his five albums that he produced for The Man in Black, and this one is no exception. If you dig old country at all, you'll enjoy American V.

Stand-out tracks - Further On Up the Road, Like the 309, On the Evening Train

9. Islands - Return to the Sea - Rising out the ashes of Canadian band The Unicorns, Islands are an exciting band that should have a bright future. With their mix of melodious clanging, funky basslines, the occasional MCing, evocative vocals, and a dash of classic pop sensibilites Return to the Sea becomes one amazing record.

Stand-out tracks - Where There is a Will There is a Whalebone, Rough Gem

10.Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That - This French outfit really knows how to put together a smooth record, even with sometimes frenetic energy. Even the instrumental tune "North" keeps your attention. I've read comparrisons to The Strokes, and I can't see it on certain tracks (like "Napoleon Says"), but I really find them a lot easier to listen to, but maybe not as exciting.

Stand-out tracks - Lost and Found, Long Distance Call

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cool Swag

Fright-Rags The Gate Shirt

I figured I may start making posts about some of the cooler pieces of swag that I come across (and wish I could buy) on the net. I'm always finding great stuff. Kicking it off is this sweet new shirt over at FRIGHT-RAGS that showcases one of the finer movies of the 1980's, The Gate.

Fright-Rags always has good stuff. I've picked up a couple of shirts from the site and have not had any kind of hassle with them. Very prompt. The best part is they are consistently coming out with quality merchandise. They have a Zuul shirt, for crying out loud! Teriffic.

Clip of the Week

Jon LaJoie - Show Me Your Genitals

With the ongoing, and hopefully lengthy series of top ten albums going on, I almost forgot about the clip of the week. Fear not, here it is:

- Jordan M.
Sulphur Springs, TX

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top Ten Albums of 2007, Pt. 2

It's taken me a while to finish this one with the FTM day journal and the baseball preview work, but I'm back on board.

The best of 2007:

1. M.I.A. - Kala
If you've ever wanted to know what it sounds like to take reggae, hip hop, electronica, and world music and play them all at once while maintaining pop sensibilities and super catchy hooks, this is the album for you. And it was done so well, it was the best record of the year. If you've heard the track "Paper Planes" even once, you've undoubtedly listened to it 100 times. And it doesn't get old.

Stand-out Tracks: Paper Planes, Boys

2. Robert Plant & Allison Krauss - Raising Sand
If I were to ask you about unlikely duets in music, the reigning queen of bluegrass and the frontman for unarguably one of the loudest, hardest-rocking bands in rock history would rank among the most unusual, right? Well, this record surprisingly proves the theory wrong.

Stand-Out Tracks: Please Read The Letter, Rich Woman

3. Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Simultaneously dark and lovely, this reminds me of the best record R.E.M. never made. This creative 7-piece has tastefully blended 80's pop, new wave, arena rock, and Springsteen into one of the most re-listenable albums of the year.

Stand-Out Tracks: Keep The Car Running, The Well & The Lighthouse

4. Kanye West - Graduation
Not nearly as genre-bending as his two previous efforts, Graduation takes what Yeezy does best to new heights of pop appeal. It was almost impossible to avoid the Daft Punk collabo "Stronger" considering you would hear it nearly every 30 seconds throughout the summer. Thing is, it was such a fun record that I didn't mind.

Stand-Out Tracks: Stronger, Barry Bonds, Good Life

5. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
Until this release, I had always been curious what Etta James would've sounded like mixed in with today's pop garbage. It was so refreshing to hear something so retro yet so fresh. It's hard to believe someone so crazy could record something this real.

Stand-Out Tracks: Me & Mr. Jones, You Know I'm No Good, Rehab

6. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
James Murphy and the boys managed to take their previous self titled release, and make their rock harder, their dance bolder, and their groove deeper. While most bands try to reinvent their own wheel, bands like LCD just take what they do well and do it better.

Stand-Out Tracks: All My Friends, North American Scum, Watch The Tapes

7. Fair To Midland - Fables From A Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True
This major label debut from System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian's imprint Serjical Strike maintains some of the chaos that SOAD fans have grown to love, while incorporating gentle elements of bands like Coldplay to form a very animated manic sound. The journey from hard and heavy to soothing melodies is surprisingly easy on the ears, enough to be the only hard rock album on this year's list.

Stand-Out Tracks: The Wife The Kids & The White Picket Fence, Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes

8. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
Apparently, self-help divorce therapy sounds a great deal like a Ziggy Stardust synth storm. Not exactly how I would express those feelings, but for this record, it works like a charm.

Stand-Out Tracks: The Past is a Grotesque Animal

9. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
This is the sound of a true-blue indie rock band recording a fantastically commercial record. They always say that "a lot of times, less is more", and this album proves the cliche.

Stand-Out Tracks: The Underdog, Don't Make Me A Target

10. Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
Fuzzy, riff-heavy guitars with art rock synth over childlike vocals. A strange brew that is hooky enough to catch you by surprise. This is noise pop downplayed for the masses.

Stand-Out Tracks: Believe ESP, Matchbook Seeks Maniac

NOTE: Unlike 'Freak, I included the Fair To Midland release while not including The Timeline Post due to the fact that the FTM record was a formal label release but TLP's effort was independently distributed. I will, however, recommend everyone to check out The Timeline Post's self titled album here, as it was a very good record and deserving of a spot on this list in terms of quality.

'06 is a-comin'...
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