Monthly Archives: August 2008

Phelps is Pretty Gold

Greatest Olympian ever? Greatest Athlete Ever? Sorry Phelpsie, but I’m not drinking that Kool-Aid.

Look, what Michael Phelps has done for the United States and for Mikes everywhere is tremendously honorable. And the fact that he aced 8 separate events after all of the hype and media build-up goes to show his ability to perform in the clutch. But what Phelps has in terms of work ethic, muscle recovery, and freak athleticism, he lacks in long term historical significance.

The most commonly heard complement to Phelps’ physical talents is that he’s about 20 years ahead of his time. But by that logic, it’s seems inevitable that someone else is going to come along with a shorter muscle recovery time, longer arms, and giant flippery feet.

You see, while hard work and athleticism are the virtues desired in an Olympian, these attributes are the easiest to eclipse. After a short time, memories begin to filter out the numbers, but leave behind the stories, those moments that manage to break through the glass cage in which these athletes perform, and force the viewer to address real issues. It’s why people remember not Jessie Owens’ racing times, but how he showed up Adolf Hitler in front of his all-Aryan superteam. And it’s why photos of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists to the sky in Mexico City in 1968 resonate, while photos of Valeri Borzov, the 1972 200m gold medalist, fails to maintain a ring.

When people look back twenty or thirty years on his Olympic performance, they will clearly see Phelps standing on the top of the medal podium eight separate times. But after downloading the “Best of Michael Phelps: 2004-2012” onto their futurePods, viewer will casually file it away ahead of Mark Spitz, and behind the next great swimmer. Meanwhile, online sales of Jessie Owens, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and the 1992 Dream Team videos will continue to hang around the top 5.

Meanwhile, where is Michael Phelps’ statement? The man is articulate, and he attends an accredited university. The world is at his feet, or at least on its knees in front of him. You’re telling me he doesn’t have anything insightful to say about anything? The 14 gold medals around his neck would buoy him from any statement short of calling for the destruction of the Chinese government or advocating children being beaten in the streets. He’s bound to make more in corporate sponsorships by keeping his mouth shut, but it’s not like the guy will have to work a real job at any point in his life. Even at his worst, he can pull a Mark Spitz, and milk his gold medals for decades before the well runs dry. But turning down a chance to make a meaningful statement when he has a captive audience in front of him? That’s only going to hinder his greatness. Because greatness requires the courage to do and say the right things regardless of the present-day consequences.

Instead, Michael Phelps is leaving Beijing early in a private jet, content to land gently into an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with hundred-dollar bills and Wheaties boxes with his face on them. It’s a fate enviable by most people, but not by the truly greatest of Olympians.

Boozer on the Brain

If the recent games starring the USA Olympic team has shown us anything, it’s that Carlos Boozer doesn’t deserve to be there.

The 6’8″ power forward from Alaska is a gritty, hardworking player who has clearly worked hard on his game, but the role he needs to play on the team is out of line with his skill set. International rules favor tall, quick power forwards who can shoot, while the tank-like Boozer is best suited to defend using his strong base to push his man towards the perimeter, something that his man probably won’t mind deferring towards. But the upshot to keeping Booze inside is that he’s about three inches from being tall enough to defend centers.

With Boozer lacking a true position in FIBA basketball, and being one of only three people on the team with the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s center, a heap of burden has been placed on Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard to stay out of foul trouble. Remember that it only takes five fouls to be disqualified, so the center position only has 10 fouls before a certain Duke head coach has to bring in his former student.

And since international rules practically beg for every center to stay under the basket to block shots and grab rebounds, this correspondent cringes every time an opposing center shoots over Boozer’s short arms or alters his shot on defense because he’s not explosive enough to rise above the rim. But since Amare Stoudamire bowed out of the Olympics to rest his knee, who should be on team USA instead of the Utah Jazz PF?

New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler makes the most sense because he’s tall (7’2″), a good shot blocker and rebounder, is familiar with catching alley-oops from USA PG (and teammate) Chris Paul, and doesn’t need the ball in order to be effective. Plus Chandler is already in Beijing as the team’s alternate, in case Boozer goes down with a well-timed, non-career threatening injury.

But the darkhorse candidate to replace Boozer is Kevin Garnett. Sure, Garnett hasn’t praticed with the US team at all, and was one of a handful of players to turn down Jerry Colangelo’s offer to join the team, there are other factors in play. Garnett is vastly superior to Boozer in all respects, and mimics Chandler’s style of play as well. But what makes Garnett a suitable candidate is something that he didn’t factor in when he turned down Colangelo’s offer in 2004; Kevin Garnett is the leader of the defending NBA champions. If USA basketball wishes to be considered the best team in the world, it would be symbolically fitting for a player from the best team in the USA’s best league to hold a roster spot. Imagine Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Garnett standing on the gold medal podium, waving an American flag, capping off a tale of redemption that features three men whose paths perfectly reflect their team’s mantra. I can see a round table of Disney movie producers salivating already.

So even though this correspondent is a Cleveland native (and briefly considered titling this piece “Boozer Dupes Blind Man – Everyone Still Remembers”), Carlos Boozer’s game is deserving of respect. But the man just isn’t a good fit for international ball. And since cohesiveness was Colangelo’s primary motivation when he constructed the USA’s roster, he should have realized that Carlos Boozer would be better suited to warming a seat in the audience, as opposed to the sidelines.

Album Review: “Thunder Lightning Strike” by The Go! Team

The Go! Team-
Thunder, Lightning, Strike
Columbia Records
By Michael Glauser

Energy is the word when listening to Thunder, Lightning, Strike, the debut album by the Go! Team, a British sextet focused on injecting nostalgia into supercharged, sonic ballads. When broken into separate pieces, the album feels oddly familiar; from the harmonicas in “Panther Dash” and “Bottle Rocket”, the encouraging piano in “Feelgood by Numbers”, to the flute loop in “Ladyflash”. But thanks to the clever mixing and breakbeat drum work, the album feels alarmingly new. There isn’t a weak track on the entire album, and each song makes you want to drop what you’re doing, and start dancing. The charged background vocals on “Bottle Rocket” and “The Power Is On” echo that of a cheerleading squad, while the brash horn playing on “Junior Kickstart” feels like the climax of a chase scene.

The Go! Team have managed to create a brilliant debut, kicking in the door to the music scene with happy banter, that sounds like it was recorded in the back of a van. If the goal of music is to have a good time, then “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” succeeds admirably, blending funk, surf rock, distortion, indie rock, and hip-hop into bright Technicolor.

Album Review: “The Fast Rise and Fall of the South” by the Kingsbury Manx

The Kingsbury Manx
The Fast Rise and Fall of the South
Yep Roc Records
By Michael Glauser

The Chapel Hill-based group Kingsbury Manx checks in with their third album, titled Fast Rise and Fall of the South, which was produced amidst a change in record label, as well as a tour bus crash. With turmoil going on outside the studio, the band has clearly smoothed things over inside. The tracks sound tighter and expertly arranged, courtesy of Co-Producer Mike Jorgensen of Wilco. The different time signatures that Manx and front man Bill Taylor play with throughout the album leave a lingering feeling those things can always pick up, no matter how low they might get.

The opening ¾ waltzing guitar and piano of “Harness and Wheel” play out like an Elliott Smith tune, with the warm vocals (“We understand where you’re coming from”) inviting you in. “What a shame”, a song about two people who realize that they have grown bored with each other, sounds like a forced march, with a pounding drum, and harpsichord playing in the background. This sound carries over to “Zero G” which continues the album’s harmonious sedation, with its lonesome acoustic guitar. This song encapsulates the feeling of the album, as the song title suggests something much more energetic and celestial. The energy picks up on “10008”, a driving song that makes you want to take a drive along the keys of the serene piano. The distorted guitar towards the end of the track is a testament to the strong production, as Jorgensen tries to keep the speed of the album varying enough to keep things interesting.

The second half of the album gets bogged down a bit by the slow pace, but there are still gems to be found, such as “Ruins”, with its cheerful bass line and subtle percussion. Bassist Ryan Richardson keenly uses a sponge under the strings to sound like an upright bass. The banjo and mellotron allow for “Animations” so take on multiple dynamics, with a varying pace, and existential lyrics.

The album closes with “Ol’ Mountainsides” which encapsulates the album into a single song. The piano buildup at the beginning gives a sense of expectation. The screeching keyboard feels like an alarm clock at the end of a deep sleep.

The Fast Rise and Fall of the South clearly shows its influences, from the Kinks, circa 1968, to Jim O’Rourke and Sufjan Stevens. But this is not to discount the creative element that Kingsbury is able to bring to the fold. This album is a noticeable evolution from their two earlier albums (and their debut EP), incorporating indie rock, soft Americana rock, and a touch of British psychedelic. The Kingsbury Manx manage to pull off a good mixture of the old and the new, in what is their most impressive album to date.

Album Review: “Born Again in the USA” by Loose Fur

Loose Fur
Born Again in the USA
Drag City Records
By Mike Glauser

Loose Fur; the name sounds like the name of a body waxing salon. But don’t be confused, as this is actually a supergroup of some of Chicago’s finest artists: Wilco frontman/guitarist Jeff Tweedy, drummer Glen Kotche, and multi-instrumentalist/composer/producer/band slut, Jim O’Rourke. For those familiar with the work of Wilco, this album may appear as a side project. But those who are new to these three artists, will find themselves experiencing an extremely high level of musical fortitude, combined with the breezy ease of a side project. The musicians clearly feel at ease with one another (O’Rourke produced and played on the last two Wilco albums), and this spills over into the smooth arrangements, and extended jams. Tweedy and O’Rourke are often interchangeable, switching off between vocals, guitars, and bass from song to song. This versatility is comically displayed in the liner notes, as the pages list which musician played what on each track. (Note: The goofy pictures of each artist make this album worth purchasing on its own)

The opening track “Hey Chicken” is a kick-ass rock song with some nice guitar layering, accompanied by a hilarious music video featuring footage from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. “The Ruling Class” captures the bands ease and familiarity with one another, while “Thou Shalt Wilt” shows a bit of O’Rourke’s progression as an artist, while still capturing his ability as a songwriter and lyricist. But the give and take of this album definitely lies in the fact that the album’s strengths ironically capture some of Born Again in the USA’s deficiencies. The band is clearly in top form, but a good many of the Jeff Tweedy-voiced tracks could have easily been released by under the “Wilco”. The same goes for O’Rourke, as “Answers to Your Questions” and “Apostolic” could be slipped onto a copy of Insignificance, O’Rourke’s 2001 release. So while fans of either or both Jeff Tweedy’s and Jim O’Rourke’s work will probably view this as a stepping stone in the immense catalogs of the band’s individual members, this album can easily be considered a success.

Album Review: The Living Blue – “Fire, Blood, Water”

I wrote this article for The Crutch Music Magazine:

The Living Blue
Fire, Blood, Water
Minty Fresh
By Mike Glauser

It’s difficult to refer to the Fire, Blood, Water, by The Living Blue as a debut. After all, three of the band members, singer/guitarist Steve Ucherek, guitarist Joe Prokop, and drummer Mark Schroder have known each other since high school in Odell, IL. In 2002, the Blackouts, as they were called, released their first debut Every Day is Sunday Evening, followed by Living in Blue in 2004, the latter of which later inspired the name change. Reemerging in 2005 with new bass player Andrew Davidson, the band is looking to expand on their garage/indie sound with new influences and a new direction.

While staying true to their previous band’s roots, Ucherek believes that Davidson can help bring a new sound to the Blue’s repertoire. “Andy is a phenomenal bass player. He and Mark [Schroder] really make a phenomenal rhythym section.” Focusing on the bass guitar, Ucherek says, is a huge requirement. “Our other bassists had the skill, but they were really guitarists who switched over to bass. And if you’re gonna try and succeed in the music scene, you really have to make it your life.”

Ucherek’s point rings from the get-go on their new record, not just with the driving “State of Affairs”, but as the album progresses. On Living in Blue, the band’s energy was the main selling point, as hundreds of fired-up mashers could drink their fill to some hearty garage rock. But the later tracks, such as “She Bleeds Pink”, “Wishlist”, and “Conquistador”, the album’s closing number, you can sense a band moving away from the shadows of Material Issue, The Hives, and Mooney Suzuki, and entering their own sound. “Conquistador” simmers with an almost grunge sounds, but has a good layering of guitar sounds, a feat accomplished by playing off of a strong rhythm section. Ucherek sees this expansion as part of the process of crafting a musical act. “I think we’re still a pretty new band, as far as the national scene goes. But we’re slowly building”

For those purists, who loved The Blackout’s garage sound, don’t fret, because the sound is still there. Tracks like “Tell Me Leza” “Secrets” and “Greenthumb” help to carry the album along, making you want to hear the entire album, instead of searching for individual tracks. While there is a slight bit of repetitiveness, this can be surpassed with each beer you drink, because if you’re not drinking while listening to this record, you’d better have a pretty good reason. The band can even offer a few suggestions, in case you’re even thinking about curling up under a blanket, and chilling out with some thrashing guitars and screeching, but emerging vocals. “Mark likes Milwaukee’s Best, while I like PBR and Budweiser” Ucherek says. “Just as long as it’s yellow. Cold and yellow.”

Album Review: “Death by Sexy” by The Eagles of Death Metal

I wrote this article in April of 2006 for The Crutch Music Magazine:

Eagles of Death Metal
Death by Sexy
Downtown Records
By Mike Glauser

The rump shaking dance rock duo, Eagles of Death Metal, returns for its second album with more hooks, rifs and old fashioned rock. Formerly a side project of the Queens of the Stone Age, the group has created a niche that is noticeably different from the body of work that QotSA has put together over their 5 album catalog. Take note, progressive rock fans, as you won’t find a group looking for concept art or intricately layered epic anthems. Instead, EoDM has chosen to strip away the brooding, earthy textures of the Stone age, leaving behind the upbeat, catchy rock n’ roll sound, one that is much more Rolling Stones than Led Zeppelin. The opening number “I Want you So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)” could easily be sung by a pre-Mesozoic Mick Jagger. If you listen to the lyrics on the second track, “I gotta feelin (she’s just 19)”, you might wonder whether frontman Jessie “the Devil” Hughes is writing a song, or documenting his experiences as he trawls through a college freshman mixer. The real gem on the album though, is the fittingly titled “Solid Gold”, which maintains the album’s catchiness, albeit with an acoustic guitar. This song provides a nice change to the plugged-in guitars, because if there are any complaints on this side, it is due to this album’s similarity to EoDM’s first album.

Expanding your sound is a major obstacle to any band that bursts in with a fresh, yet simple pattern, and that issue is on display here. The first track sounds eerily similar to “I Only Want You” from EoDM’s debut album “Peace Love Death Metal, and “Poor Doggie” sounds so much like “Flames Go Higher” that you might wind up doing a double take. These issues manage to slightly dull what is otherwise a very sharp album. Hughes and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme make a hilarious duo, and back up their image with a sound that’s sexier than Hughes’ 70s porn star mustache. This album kicks a ton of ass and its hangups won’t lose many fans of the first album along the way.