Thursday, December 16, 2010

Community vs. Better Off Ted

There's no earthly reason to compare these two shows. They are both worth your time, two excellent examples of television comedy that each deserve a bigger audience.

My point is, watch both of these. But I'm not like that, and frankly I don't think most people are, either. Everybody wants to crown a winner, one show to rule them all. And I am here to do that. Let's break it down by category:

Leading man:
Joel McHale has been killing it on The Soup for years, but it's a little easier to be likable when you're hating on the dregs of reality TV and washed-up celebrities than it is to pull off a multi-faceted, flawed and all too human character like Jeff Winger. Jeff is charismatic, but his "a-hole who slowly learns to love people" shtick reeks of chick flicks and sometimes makes him difficult to sympathize with, especially when (season one spoilers coming up) every woman on the show basically throws herself at him in the finale and his problem is he can't choose between them. Aww. Plus, as the show moves into its second season, he's hardly the focal point of most episodes anymore.

Ted Crisp, on the other hand, is played by Jay Harrington as a good guy working for an evil company. The worst thing you could really say about Ted is he's such a company man. As for the rest, the character is so gosh-darn lovable he makes me use the word "gosh-darn". I'd like to hang out with Jeff and perhaps even be in his study group, but I'd LOVE to have Ted as my boss.

Advantage: Better Off Ted

BOT has solid supporting players in Lem, Phil, Linda and especially Veronica (Portia De Rossi, cast MVP hands down, pulling off a role that's completely the opposite of Lindsay Bluth while being just as convincing). But Community brings together the comedic powers of Donald Glover and Danny Pudi (as Troy and Abed, who are basically the Wondertwins of hilarity on this show), Mad Men's Alison Brie (proving she's way more suited to comedy than drama), plus John Oliver, Ken Jeong, and Chevy Chase (in a role that screams "How the hell did I get so washed up? I'm awesome!"). That's not even including recurring characters like Starburns, Dean Pelton, Leonard and others. In fact, Community might have the strongest cast of any comedy show on the air right now.

Advantage: Community

One of my problems with TV comedy today is that every new hyped-up show seems to be either a ripoff of The Office or Arrested Development, or some combination thereof. Better Off Ted doesn't quite avoid that trap (it's kind of hard not to notice de Rossi is on this show), but it manages to set its own sort of tone for the most part, especially when they exploit the wacky "mad science" side of Veridian.

Community is one of those premises that just make you think "Why hasn't anybody done this before?" They could easily stretch this concept for about five seasons without becoming derivative or repetitive. The college setting provides endless fodder for weird stories and the diversity of the cast often means a different type of episode each week.

Advantage: Community

Too hard. Only way to resolve this is through a Battle of the Quotes Smackdown:

Better Off Ted - "Friendship. It's the same as stealing."

"The Veridian Foundation... helping the world then telling people about it makes us feel so good. The Veridian Foundation... Helping people. By telling people we're helping the world."

Veronica: Those are just facts, and facts are just opinions, and opinions can be wrong.

Veronica: Oh, God, we have unhappy Germans. Nothing good has ever come from that.

Ted: The potential for a long-lasting light bulb is enormous. In a recent study, people's desire to see things ranked third, right after hitting things and trying to have sex with things.

Linda: You guys are thinking about antlers and tails, aren't you?
Phil: Why do animals get all the best stuff attached to their bodies?
Lem: I would love to have a blowhole.

Lem: Oh, my God. Maybe we're evil scientists.
Phil: (laughing maniacally) I'm sorry. I laugh like that when faced with an unpleasant truth. That's why I got thrown out of that Al Gore movie.

Ted: The implications for weight loss are enormous. And while elective brain surgery doesn't test that great, it still tests better than dieting and exercise.

Commercial: Veridian Dynamics. The environment. Everyone likes it. And so, we do too. That's why we're committed to saving it. Veridian Dynamics is turning every one of our buildings 100% green. It's ridiculously expensive and spending money makes us sad. But we're doing it because we love nature, even when it's being mean or just acting stupid. Veridian Dynamics. Greening our world.

Community - Troy: My uncle was struck by lightning. You'd think it would give you superpowers, but now he just masturbates in movie theaters.

Pierce: Abed, Your social skills aren't exactly streets ahead, know what I mean?
Abed: I don't.
Jeff. You're not alone in this case. Pierce, stop trying to coin the phrase 'streets ahead'.
Pierce: Trying? Coined and minted.

Jeff: Why do you have a monkey?
Troy: Uh, it's an animal that looks like a dude. Why don't I have 10 of them?

Troy: You should be like Calvin. His best friend was a tiger, he always went on dope adventures, and if anything stood in his way, he just peed on it.

Vaughn: Actually, everyone is my bro in the whole entire universe because everything is connected. Rocks... eagles... hats.

Troy: Girls are supposed to dance. That's why God gave them parts that jiggle.

Shirley: You think religion is stupid.
Jeff: No, no. To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal and I would never take it away from anyone, but I would also never stand in line for it.

"East Side, West Side, North Side, South
Vaughn's breath is so bad his butt's mad at his mouth
This rap is by Pierce, Vaughn is dumb
He wears diapers to bed and sucks his mother's thumb
When he wakes up stupid wishing he was me
He has a big poop breakfast and a glass of pee
Then he goes to school where he's stupid again
And everybody hates him even all of his friends
When you come after Pierce, then the battle is on
So this rap goes out to stupid Vaughn"

Advantage: Too hard. Let's call it a draw.

Cancellability (not a word? is now):

Everybody knows cancellation makes the heart grow fonder. There's several reasons for this: unfulfilled potential is always better than mundane reality, shows that stay on the air too long will inevitably start to suck after awhile, it's more fun to root for an underdog than a champion. Mostly I think that after Arrested Development and Firefly got so popular (i.e. post-cancellation), nobody wants to miss the boat on these things anymore.

Community hasn't exactly lit the world on fire ratings-wise, but Better Off Ted's ratings were so abysmally low it's amazing it even lasted a full season, let alone two sets of 13 episodes. Plus, Ted has already been canceled. No contest.

Advantage: Better Off Ted


Better Off Ted could pull off some emotional moments when it wanted to, but ultimately it was too absurd of a show to get too sentimental (reminiscent of Arrested Development in that way). Community regularly goes for the TV trope of "characters learn lesson X this week", but somehow they manage to pull it off almost every time. The second season in particular has contained episodes that are almost bittersweet in their resolutions. It's a subjective thing, but I feel that comedy has more impact when it involves characters that we care about, that we care what happens to them. It's the difference between a show like The Simpsons or South Park and a show like Family Guy. No matter how funny the latter can be, it's impossible to feel invested in anything that happens. Comedy doesn't always have to be an empty laugh.

Advantage: Community

Total score: 3-2, and 1 tie. Better Off Ted is one of the funniest comedies in recent memory. It has it all. But Community is streets ahead, and since it's still on the air, has the potential to get even better.

But seriously, watch both shows.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Xmas songs I actually like

I don't care for most Xmas songs. They just sound like a bunch of advertising jingles, especially the ones that mention Santa Claus by name.

But I'm not a Scrooge -- I just believe in preserving the true spirit of the season. So in that spirit, here are some of my favorite carols:

(all it reminds me of now is Michael Cera walking around looking sad, yet I still love it)

(I used to play this version while caroling; it was the only way to make it bearable)

(this whole album is good. I just don't feel like posting every song)

(I've never heard this version, but how can it not be good?)

(Clearly this is the best one ever and I don't have to explain why)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not Xmas songs

The following songs have nothing to do with any kind of holiday season. Anyone caught playing one of them in an attempt to establish the "spirit of Xmas" will have their DJ card revoked.

1. We Are The World

Understandable. You got this song mixed up with "Do They Know It's Christmas Time". It happens.

2. My Favorite Things

There is no excuse for this one. Not only does it have jack-all to do with Xmas, it totally misses the point of it -- assuming that material things are what makes life better.

3. Baby, It's Cold Outside

Oh sure, it mentions cold weather. That's pretty tenuous grounds for re-appropriating it for the holiday season though, isn't it? Why not include every song that mentions ice or snow? I'd sure like to sing "Immigrant Song" next time we go caroling.

Besides, has anyone ever read the lyrics? It's a date rape song. I wouldn't let my kids listen to it is all I'm saying.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Xmas wish list

I don't care what I get for Xmas.

I used to collect CDs. Then I'd ask for DVDs. Most recently, I've been collecting records. But now there's nothing out there I really want anymore. That is, I pretty much have everything I wanted.

Maybe I've still got a Thanksgiving hangover or whatever, but our culture seems to jump immediately from "taking a moment to appreciate what we've got" to "gotta get more gotta get more NOW NOW NOW" so quickly, it's ridiculous. Like, why schedule two holidays with the exact opposite message one right after the other?

Know what I want for Xmas? A job. I'm getting one, as soon as Kamehameha Schools gets their criminal background check on me done. Anything else? I would like my records and my record player, which are hopefully still being guarded watchfully by my brother-in-law Kip at his house. And my car, which we left in the care of my other brother-in-law Randy. But those are things I already had.

Oh, I know what else I want! A haircut. That's it really. I wouldn't mind some new threads, but I know I'm gonna get stuff to wear no matter what.

So when you go Xmas shopping, remember, don't get me anything. Sure, I wouldn't mind getting Inception or Community season 1, but it's not important to me. It's just stuff. I got plenty of that. There's people in this world who don't even have water. Get something for them instead.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Not cut out for this

Apologies go out to my man Austintatious for saying I'd do National Novel Writing Month for him this year. The goal is supposed to be 30,000 words by the end of the month and after 22 days my word count stands at 4,928, far short of where I should be. My idea was to track my progress on my Twitter, but even that stays mostly incomplete.

Looks like the only thing left to do is just keep working on my story for its own sake. I kind of like where it's at now anyway. Maybe this means I can finally accept myself for the writer that I am, totally incapable of churning out the words unless I feel like it. Which I guess means I'm not a real writer. It's just another thing that I dabble in. Kind of like blogging and music and reading books and basketball and most other things I've ever tried in life. It's a hobby.

Gotta keep working on it anyway. Not much else I can do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to have a good day

1) Knock your first job interview in MONTHS out of the park, especially after the debacle that was your last job interview. Try to ignore that you still might not begin work until it's almost Xmas or something.
2) Watch a game of basketball in which your favorite team (JAZZ) triumphs over your least favorite player in the league (LEBRON JAMES) in overtime, on their home floor, by two points, because your favorite player on that team (PAUL MILLSAP) went bonkers (43 POINTS).
3) Have band practice. Make good progress on every song.
4) Do laundry (to stay grounded)
5) Play pickup basketball at the church that night. Play one of your best nights ever (except for that sequence where you miss 3 wide-open layups in a row due to fatigue and cost your team the game).
6) Wendy and Holden. Just have them.
7) Blog about it so it stays fresh forever.
8) Do a little writing.

Some days really shouldn't have to end.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I love the 70s

Maybe it's because it was the last decade before I was born, so I'll always feel like I missed out.

But is it just me, or were the 70s all kinds of awesome?

Lots of my all-time favorite movies came out in the 70s. A bunch more are just movies that I love because they're a throwback to that 70s vibe (Hello, Zodiac, nice to see you again). Check this list:

The Godfather
Star Wars
Dawn of the Dead
Apocalypse Now
All The President's Men
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Taxi Driver

Holy crap, I'll just stop there. Is that a list of the best movies ever made or just a list of the best from that decade? I can't even tell.

Then there's the music. Serious question: with Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell, do you actually need anything else to be considered the best decade ever?

I mean listen to some of this stuff, and if it doesn't speak to you in some way then I can't help you:

Luckily they weren't the only artists making music in that decade, cause I guess there might be one or two people somewhere who don't care for them. There was still Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, ABBA, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, the solo Beatles (before they turned crappy), Neil Young, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, The Clash, Black Sabbath, I don't feel like listing anymore.

I guess some other important stuff happened that decade too. Like my parents getting married, which paved the way for me to exist. Or a president having to resign, which I'm still undecided whether that was a good or bad thing. The point is, if I could pick one decade to live in forever, I'd go with this one. Easily. Even if I had to deal with Ashton Kutcher being my wacky friend, it'd be worth it.

What's your favorite decade and why?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Best zombie movie ever

The original Dawn Of The Dead is the best zombie movie that will ever be made.

Here's why:
1. Timing
1978 was absolutely the best time in history to make a zombie movie. The concept wouldn't get played out until a good 30 years later, yet it had evolved enough to start introducing subtleties and dark humor. Those big 70s hairstyles somehow make the zombies seem even more terrifying. Plus, it was the only era where you could get away with using music this cheesy in a horror film:

2. Director
George A. Romero is the O.G. zombie filmmaker. He basically invented the genre out of whole cloth. Actually it's just a variation on "The Last Man On Earth" with Vincent Price, which was based on the book I Am Legend. So really the genre was initiated by Richard Matheson, but Romero modernized it. Anyway, he's made four zombie movies since, but none of them have been as good as this or "Night Of The Living Dead", his first one. All the stars align like this only once in a person's career, if he's lucky.
3. Commentary
So the plot of Dawn Of The Dead concerns four survivors who decide to hole up in a shopping mall while the zombies rule the outside world. Not only is this a brilliant idea that any smart person would do in real life, it creates the perfect opportunity for Romero to include some of his sharpest satire. Without being preachy, he criticizes the emptiness of American consumer culture by presenting zombies that are irresistibly drawn to wander, dead-eyed around the extravagant, but ultimately useless stores in the mall. "This was an important place in their lives," one character notes.
4. It spoofs zombies before "zombie spoofs" existed
As evidenced by this clip:

5. It's still scary
Maybe to a generation raised on zombies that move like Olympic sprinters, this stuff seems corny and outdated. But check out the beginning of the movie below. It seems slow at first, but it builds a strong sense of fear and dread just by showing the chaos and confusion that the world is in. The first onscreen zombie doesn't appear until 10 minutes and 25 seconds into the film, yet it manages to be a shock by the time it finally does. That is quality filmmaking. The feast of gore that does arrive is more affecting because of the atmosphere the movie has established before it. I wish more zombie movies had that kind of ambition.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Super Random Bros.

Just some random songs that I love. Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sleepytime music

Most nights, I have trouble sleeping. Some strange people would attribute this to overzealous caffeine consumption or general laziness throughout the day, leaving me with an unnecessary store of energy by nighttime.

While those things may be contributing factors to my sleeplessness, it's all ignoring the main problem. I just can't turn my mind off most of the time. In order for me to even dream about catching a wink of sleep, my thoughts need to wander down pathways of nonsense and absurdity, which can't happen if I'm obsessing about whatever's going on in real life.

So I usually put some music on in my headphones to fall asleep. And I've learned from experience which music always facilitates the state of mind I need to be in to achieve unconsciousness.

Firstly, it can't be music that's too quiet. If it is, my mind stupidly makes an effort to hear it, and keeps me awake. Repetitive songs tend to work better too. Think of them as mantras, chanting you to sleep.

Here are my go-to albums to put on while I lie awake for hours:

Pink Floyd - Meddle
It's my favorite Pink Floyd album and the one I've fallen asleep to more than any other. I think it's the way it starts with their hardest-rocking song ever, then segues into one of their prettiest acoustic guitar songs. Check how the wind noises are the only thing that connect the two songs:

R.E.M. - Fables Of The Reconstruction
This one works every time. It's got this weird baroque Southern gothic vibe that R.E.M. never really attempted again. Which is a shame because they could've forged an entire career out of this sound.

Benton Falls - Fighting Starlight
I talked a little about this album in another post. What I didn't mention was the incredibly potent barbiturate properties it has. It's pretty much all languid tempos, jangly guitar picking and relentless unhappiness. In waking life I'm hardly ever in the mood for that, but when I crave sleep, I crave this.

Stereolab - Switched On
Sometimes you just want to get lost in waves of pleasant sound.

Chantal Kreviazuk - Colour Moving & Still
This one song alone can get me to doze even when I don't want to. And if it doesn't work, I'm still glad I listened to it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks

Title: Blood On The Tracks
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1975
Had since: 2005
How I got it: A Greek fellow by the name of Spiros Katsas sent me a bunch of CDs one time. This was one of them.
Why I have it: Because it's Dylan. He's kind of necessary.

I actually never cared much for Dylan. I had Highway 61 Revisited on cassette once, and it was good. I used to have Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde On Blonde and a random bunch of tracks from his Greatest Hits CD too.

All good stuff, right? Right (Except Blonde On Blonde -- I couldn't get through that one). His albums are so full of classic songs that it starts to seem absurd in a way that's comparable only with the Beatles, but in his case it's more impressive because he was just one guy.

Maybe that's what put me off of him for so long. His legacy is so weighty, it's like there's no way to just sit back and listen to this music on its own terms, removed from the context of rock history and groundbreaking lyricism and the man's own enigmatic public image. Just how do you approach the greatest songwriter of the 20th century? How do you accept that a guy with such an ugly singing voice created such beautiful songs?

Anyway I'm over most of that now. This is the album that sort of helped the puzzle come together for me a bit. Each song is outstanding in its own right and demonstrates his range as a songwriter, which is weird considering every song is basically about the same thing, but that's part of the appeal. This guy was just a master at capturing very specific emotions and distilling them into song form. The songs on this album convey everything from contented resignation to fond reminiscing to bitter venom to guarded optimism -- all the emotions people go through when a relationship ends.

That's the Dylan that interests me. If you're turned off by the idea of him, like I was back when I associated him with his political/protest songs, think of him as more of a humanist. It's impossible to listen to an album like this and not feel like he tapped into something universal. That's what we look for in music (and most art forms) anyway -- connection.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Drive Like Jehu - Yank Crime

Title: Yank Crime
Artist: Drive Like Jehu
Year: 1994
Had since: 2005
How I got it: Big Daddy's in Provo
Why I have it: My first exposure to this band was a song called "On A Rope" by Rocket From The Crypt.

I loved this song when I was 15. But at the time, I had no way of knowing that lead singer/guitarist John Reis used to be in a band called Drive Like Jehu.

When I first heard about them, it was in connection to the 90s emo scene, and specifically in comparison to Fugazi and Quicksand (who I already loved) and being an influence on At The Drive-In (which turned out to be an overblown claim).

The album itself put me off at first. Half the songs are about nine minutes long, and the band rocks so hard throughout that it becomes exhausting to listen to. Over the top of this messy, noisy, chaotic rock there's this guy just screaming in an agitated voice. Two thoughts come to mind. First of all, what the hell was Interscope thinking when they signed this band to a major label deal? There's not one single moment of commercial appeal on the entire record. Second, how in the world did they come up with this sound? It's crazy yet controlled, equal parts power and precision, loud and violent but in a way that transcends genre qualifiers. The closest I could think to label it is "progressive hardcore", and that still doesn't quite work.

The point is that Yank Crime is a unique record, and it's easy to see why they broke up right after this. They did what they set out to do, and left it at that. The band has influenced countless people, yet no one will ever sound just like them. That, by itself, is the best testament to their lasting impact.

Last note: Before producing albums for bands like Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, Mark Trombino was one hell of a drummer. Listen to these fills.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to watch season 1 of In Treatment

At 9 discs and 43 episodes long, the first season of HBO's psychiatric drama series "In Treatment" is a daunting prospect. Add that to the fact that each episode consists of an entire therapy session with one of a recurring set of patients and you've got a show that puts you on notice immediately: this is not light viewing.

But as you follow this simple step-by-step guide and grow accustomed to the format, the investment you make into this American remake of the Israeli show Be'Tipul begins to pay off, in unexpected ways. So whenever your interest in a particular character begins to lag or the entire experience seems to lack reward, refer to the following rules:

1) Ignore Laura
This is hard to do, because they try to make her an important character for such a long time, but it's necessary. Just ignore her. She sucks. She's supposed to be this irresistible cauldron of sexual desirability, but the actress that plays her is neither attractive nor charismatic enough to pull it off. It's one of those cases where it's difficult to tell whether the problem is with the performance or with the writing. Whatever it is, the best thing to do is simply pretend she doesn't exist, especially on a show that is otherwise so brilliant.

2) Skip the episode with Paul's kids
Paul (Gabriel Byrne) is the therapist and main character of the show. We only see him when he's at work, or when he sees his old therapist Gina (Dianne Wiest) at the end of every week. Therapy is the man's life. We don't need to see what he's like as a father. And his daughter is played by Ann from Arrested Development (better known as "Who?" or "Her?"), which makes it hard to take seriously.

3) Watch out for Alex
Tuesday's patient Alex (Blair Underwood) seems like a macho military stereotype at first, so we are fairly blindsided to discover mid-season that we suddenly care more about him than any of the other patients. After killing 17 kids in an air raid and suffering a heart attack by pushing his body to its breaking point while training for a marathon, the man who disdains therapy at first turns out to need it the most. Watch out for him.

4) Enjoy Mia Wasikowska while you can
She plays Sophie, a young gymnast who may or may not have a history of suicide attempts. And she is such a talented young actress that it's only a matter of time before she becomes famous and starts doing crappy romantic comedies for bigger pay. She was already in Alice In Wonderland earlier this year. Her portrayal of a troubled teenage girl is one of the most convincing I've ever seen. Enjoy it while it lasts, because this kind of talent is a rare thing.

5) Give Jake and Amy some time
They seem like a tiresome "bickering couple" at first, with their disagreement over whether to terminate a pregnancy. But as their sessions continue, and especially as they each go one-on-one with Paul, both characters begin to reveal surprising depths, and the actors go to great lengths to make us care about them. In the beginning of the season, I found them to be the least interesting patients, and that did a total 180 for me by the end. In between are all the ups, downs, and middles of any human relationship, until their problems begin to seem universal and extremely sensible. They are both at fault for how far they've fallen as a couple, and yet it's almost as if there's nothing they could've done to avoid it.

6) Try to be patient for the next seasons
This show has got to be a pain in the ass to write and produce, and since it'll never find a large audience there's no pressing demand to make the episodes available right away. But they will be, in time. Just try to wait. It'll be worth it.

Down By Law - Punkrockacademyfightsong

Title: Punkrockacademyfightsong
Artist: Down By Law
Year: 1994
Had since: 1997/2007
How I got it: Borrowed/Greywhale in Provo
Why I have it: My brother and I went through a major punk rock phase when I was 14. In the summer of 1996 we bought the first "Punk-O-Rama" CD from Epitaph Records which included bands like Bad Religion, The Offspring, Rancid, NOFX, Pennywise and Wayne Kramer. But the best song on this thing, standing out among this slew of angry, slashing guitar attacks was a cheery, sunny-sounding pop anthem called "Bright Green Globe."

This song made a Down By Law fan out of me instantly. From the beginning, a shimmering guitar noise with a soft voice singing "Aaaaaah" over it, to the "AYYYYYYY!" scream that brings in the rhythm section and the drumroll that begins each verse, to the final, hanging "Nobody knows it allllll...." ending, I was hooked. Down By Law were exactly the type of punk band I was looking for. They even had a cool logo: An arrow cutting downwards through a rectangle, suggesting an aesthetic that breaks down boundaries and thinks outside the box.

So we borrowed (it is uncertain if we ever returned it) the disc from a relative of ours who liked cool music. And the full album was a bit of a letdown. There are at least five or six other songs as good as "Bright Green" on this thing, but they're buried amidst a bunch of formulaic punk and jokey filler, epitomized by a stupid cover of the Proclaimers' hit "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", listed simply as "500 Miles" here. It lacks the raw passion and musical variation of "Blue". Frontman Dave Smalley replaced the entire lineup of the band prior to this record, switching out former members of The Chemical People with guitarist Sam Williams III, bassist Angry John Di Mambro and drummer Hunter Oswald. The result is better cohesion as a unit, at the expense of exploration. "Blue" sounded like a band still trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be -- the song title "Looking For Something" says it all. "Punkrockacademyfightsong" is the sound of a band settling into an identity, and for better or worse, it's the template they've followed ever since. I say "a band settling into an identity" is always for the worst, but those are my prejudices.

Down By Law - Hit Or Miss

Monday, September 6, 2010

Down By Law - Blue

Title: Blue
Artist: Down By Law
Year: 1992
Had since: 2001/2007
How I got it: Cheapo Music in Manoa, 2001; the Internet, 2007
Why I have it: When I was 15 years old, my brothers and I used to tape this bodyboarding show on public access called Launch. It was basically surfing/bodyboarding montages set to music, with short segments hosted by pro bodyboarders in between. The show (along with its pure surfing counterpart, H3O) was instrumental in getting me into punk rock, and it introduced me to bands like NOFX, Social Distortion, Gorilla Biscuits, Ten Foot Pole, Bonecrusher and these guys.

Down By Law were the fourth and final band for singer/guitarist Dave Smalley, after working as frontman for DYS, Dag Nasty, and All. His emotive, full-throated singing style favors drawn-out vocal hooks and passionate shouts. Although the band mostly hews to the standard punk template, they show off a little range and subtlety with the slow-motion stomper "Rain", the love ballad "Our Own Way", the meditative "Looking For Something", the weirdly funky "Break The Walls" and the acoustic "Dead End". These forays into decidedly un-punk territory, emphasizing melody over power, make this DBL's most solid album ever. In short, start here if you're interested.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dizzee Rascal - Boy In Da Corner

Title: Boy In Da Corner
Artist: Dizzee Rascal
Year: 2003
Had since: 2007
How I got it: the Internet
Why I have it: Boy In Da Corner was one of the best-reviewed albums of the past decade. It's got a score of 92 on Metacritic and was included in several "best albums of the 00s" list. As a rap fan and a person who sometimes compulsively checks out things that receive all the critical acclaim, I had to get around to it eventually.

It's easy to see why people were so taken with it at the time. Rascal was 17 years old when he made it, and his flow -- ridiculous thick British accent and all -- certainly would've stood out among either the mainstream or underground of rap. And he was clearly talented. This ain't no SouljahBoyTellEm-type juvenile garbage. It's dark and weird and once in a while, it's funky.

I guess I just don't see what the big deal is. I hear a good hip hop album by a young dude who probably has more talent than restraint. But not one of the best albums of the last decade. Something about it lacks memorability. I doubt that very many people are still going to regard it as a classic ten years from now. It's enjoyable from time to time, but 92 on Metacritic? Really?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. - Bug

Title: Bug
Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Year: 1988
Had since: 2005
How I got it: Borders
Why I have it: This and "You're Living All Over Me" were reissued at the same time (along with their debut) by Merge Records in 2005. I went back on forth on which one to buy first and finally bought "You're Living". After that, I had to get this one.

Prior to the reissues, the only CD I had by them was their "BBC In Session" album. It was a compilation that had some of their best songs on it, including this one, my favorite song of theirs and track 2 on "Bug":

The song just encapsulates everything I love about this band. It starts off slow and miserable, but when the singing comes in it turns almost hopeful, with the guitars just roaring full blast the whole time. Then in the middle it picks up and rages for a short guitar solo before returning to the original melody. I could honestly listen to it all day.

But even before I had that CD, the first song I ever heard by them was Bug's lead-off track "Freak Scene". Except it wasn't by them, it was a cover of that song by Blink-182. At the time I didn't know it was a cover and just thought it was one of their bad songs. Now I know it's just a bad cover of a good song. Their singer does a pretty fair impersonation of Dinosaur's singer J. Mascis though.

If I have to choose between Bug and You're Living All Over Me, after all these years, I wouldn't. It's too close to call, as both albums have the structural complexity combined with crushingly loud guitars and beautiful pop songwriting that makes Dinosaur Jr so great. I would say get both, but get Bug first. They are both essential.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me

(Editor's note: It's too time-consuming trying to lump all these CDs together, plus it's unfair to the artists. I'm going one disc per post now. Here's how I'm going to profile them.)

Title: You're Living All Over Me
Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Year: 1987
Had since: 2005
How I got it: Borders
Why I have it: Always wanted to hear it. This album was impossible for me to find until it was reissued by Merge Records in 2005. I first heard of Dinosaur Jr. when I was in my second semester of college (this was 2001).

I remember thinking the name was cool, but I had no idea how appropriate it was. They were a band simultaneously ahead of their time and behind it. Later bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine copped their sound and aesthetic, while their songwriting style and guitar effects owed a debt to Neil Young, who's been old forever.

Back in 1987, reviving obsolete sounds wasn't considered fashionable. Dinosaur Jr. combined hippie-ish folk pop tendencies with bad acid-trip guitar pyrotechnics and the depressive vibe of goth and in the process became one of the most influential bands of the alternative/indie era. Everything old really is new again.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 5: Static white sound

Codeseven - A Sense Of Coalition (PLEASE LISTEN TO THIS BAND. This one is just an OK-ish hardcore punk album, but their later stuff is this dark, futuristic electro-rock with the smoothest, most powerfully emotive male vocalist I've ever heard on the mic. I saw them live on accident -- they were opening for this other band I wanted to see -- but they impressed me enough that I picked up their 2004 release "Dancing Echoes/Dead Sounds" and it ended up becoming my favorite album of that year. I was listening to it around the time I met Wendy and it was one of the first bands I got her into. So the album has double-special meaning for me. Beyond that, the songs are experimental yet perfectly structured, they touch on a whole variety of moods and styles, and the singing is just otherworldly. LISTEN TO THIS PLEASE.)
Dancing Echoes Dead Sounds by codeseven

Converge - Jane Doe
Converge - You Fail Me
(There's a reason why their Web site is called "". Converge have earned a dedicated underground following over 20 years of playing their frantic hybrid of death metal and hardcore. Whether you love them and singer Jacob Bannon's banshee shriek or not, that kind of work ethic and passion deserves respect.)

Cows - Sorry In Pig Minor (This CD is all weird and experimental and silly, but it's also incredibly mellow. Therefore I'm hardly ever in the right type of mood for it, and even if I am, I still don't care for the singer's voice. Here's the best song from it.)

Helios Creed - Planet X
Helios Creed - On The Dark Side Of The Sun
(Psychedelic acid space rock. Guitar alternately sounds like it's melting, vomiting or exploding. Sounds awesome, but the songwriting fails to live up to the cool gimmick.)

The Cure - Pornography (Obviously The Cure are a great band and I need to hear more stuff by them. All I know by them is this and their greatest hits. Also I had Disintegration once but I deleted it. Oh the shame.)

Dälek - Abandoned Language (Newark is the worst city I've ever been to in my life. All urban blight, rampant poverty and industrial wasteland. When people talk about how crappy New Jersey is, they're talking about Newark. Dälek (pronounced "di-a-leck")are a rap group from Newark, and they sound every bit like it. Their beats are dark, ugly, noisy and full of bitterness. The rapping is slow, monotone and full of pessimism. For obvious reasons, they are one of my all-time favorite rap groups.)

Dave Matthews Band - Live At Red Rocks
Dave Matthews Band - Listener Supported
Dave Matthews Band - Everyday
Dave Matthews Band - Busted Stuff
(Their albums always contain at least one flat-out killer track that, for whatever reason, you'll never hear on the radio. Here's one of them.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 4: No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones

Michelle Branch - The Spirit Room
Michelle Branch - Hotel Paper
(I actually feel kind of bad for Michelle Branch. Her sound, while not the most original, was lifted by people like Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift, all of whom have had better careers than her. And to this day her most popular work is probably those collaborations with Carlos Santana. Not the best way to be remembered. I prefer to remember her as the bridge between the Britney/boy band era (which was still going strong at the time of her debut) and the rise of American Idol's brand of mainstream pop/rock. You can still hear traces of both styles in her songs.)

Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (Good wintertime album. Hard to listen to because Conor Oberst sings on it. He's one of those guys. Also, he wants to be Dylan so bad it hurts.)
Butthole Surfers - Butthole Surfers/Live PCPPEP
Butthole Surfers - Rembrandt Pussyhorse
Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician
Butthole Surfers - Widowermaker EP
Butthole Surfers - The Hole Truth And Nothing Butt
(They toiled in the underground for years and put out albums of weird, psychedelic, trashy noise, influencing bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and The Melvins. But still they're best known as the one-hit wonder behind that "pouring like an avalanche coming down a mountain" song. If you have any taste at all for weirdness in music, check out that early stuff. It's like the music of cackling love demons.)

The Cars - Greatest Hits (Like Tom Petty, The Police, Talking Heads and others, I appreciate the hit singles of The Cars but never feel compelled to delve any deeper into their discography. Maybe I will someday though.)
Cave In - Antenna
Cave In - Perfect Pitch Black
(I love this band. Please listen to them. They started as a screaming heavy metal group, transformed into heavy space rock, and now they're some combination of both and yet neither at the same time. They were awesome when I saw them live, too.)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Murder Ballads
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Lyre of Orpheus
(Nick Cave is a badass. He doesn't need any damn youtubes.)
Clair De Lune - Marionettes
(Not many hard rock bands past the 1980s have attempted to make piano/keyboards an integral part of their sound. There was Faith No More, and Faith No More. And then there was Clair De Lune, who debuted with this album in 2004, displaying a flair for intricate songwriting, dramatic dual vocals and rocking as hard as possible. It was my favorite album of the year at the time, but these days I don't listen to music that's this dark and angry so often. Still, they were just about the best post-hardcore band around until they broke up a few years back. Wish they had been more popular, or at least lasted longer.)

The Clash - Give Em Enough Rope
The Clash - London Calling
The Clash - Combat Rock
The Clash - Super Black Market Clash
(If any band could work as a one-word summary of all the music I've ever been into, it would be the Clash. They're punk, but they're also classic rock, and yet they were somehow "alternative" and "indie" before those terms existed. They were also "the only band that matters", dabbling in reggae, pop, funk and rap. Above all else, they were ambitious to the point of trying to be all things to all people in every nation. Whether they failed or succeeded is beside the point. The point is they were never content to be a little band making music in one genre -- and my philosophy of music is that no one should ever be.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Party like it's 2007

2007 was the best year for music and film in recent memory. In 2007, these came out:

No Country For Old Men
There Will Be Blood
The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Lookout

Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Battles - Mirrored
The Austerity Program - Black Madonna
Yea Big & Kid Static - s/t
PJ Harvey - White Chalk
Wu-tang Clan - 8 Diagrams
Nina Nastasia & Jim White - You Follow Me
Dälek - Abandoned Language
Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals

Plus on TV, there were the premieres of Mad Men (thus paving the way for Breaking Bad and the makeover of AMC as a powerhouse of critically-acclaimed drama series), Pushing Daisies (which had characters doing musical numbers well before Glee) and Burn Notice (the best post-24 action series and the template for a new genre: the "expert helps out regular people" show).

I don't have top ten from any other year that can touch those in terms of quality, diversity, or cultural significance. And I doubt we'll see another year like this anytime soon.

This year, for example, I can't even scrape together a top 5 of movies I've seen so far. I liked Inception and... what else has there been? Music? I'd rather not talk about it. This decade is not off to the most promising start.

But maybe I'm holding it to too high a standard. Not every year can be like 2007. And maybe I'm even wrong about that. Has there been a better year that I'm totally forgetting?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 3: The Botch Boys

The Beach Boys - Sounds Of Summer (I always think I like The Beach Boys more than I actually do. I mean, how can you not like them? They're The Beach Boys! They're the band that might have introduced me to rock n' roll; I've liked them since I was 6 years old. And they're arguably the greatest American band of their era. In spite of all this, I rarely get the urge to listen to them and haven't bothered to hear much besides this and Pet Sounds. There's something a little too wholesome about them for me. It reeks of skeletons in closets and forced innocence caused by repression. But every now and then I'm in just the right mood for that.)

Bear vs. Shark - Terrorhawk
(a band from Michigan that broke up a few years ago. They had a nice aggressive sound that was somewhere between mainstream and underground rock, which is a niche that I feel not enough bands fit into.)

The Beastie Boys - License To Ill
The Beastie Boys - Anthology: The Sounds Of Science (Was License to Ill truly a groundbreaking rap record or were The Beastie Boys just a bunch of idiots who got lucky because they right place right-timed it? And did they push the genre into new and exciting places, or are they ultimately to blame for the "rap-rock" era and the rise of a thousand Linkin Parks and ICPs? I'll leave that for other people to debate while I go put "Sabotage" on repeat.)

Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
(I first heard of B&S in the mid-90s, but I only heard this album for the first time five years ago. Just as well. If I'd heard it at the time, I would've thought "this music is way too wimpy for me". Without knowing it, what I'd mean is "I really like this, but I'm afraid admitting it will make me feel effeminate or even homosexual in some way, because apparently my grasp of masculinity is so shaky it feels threatened by enjoyment of the wrong type of music." Anyway this album is good. I have this and Boy With The Arab Strap. Remind me to hear more stuff by this band sometime.)

Benton Falls - Fighting Starlight
Benton Falls - Guilt Beats Hate
(Band from Santa Rosa, California that released two records on the Deep Elm label before disbanding. The first album is sad and slow, with heavy emphasis on dual guitar arpeggios. The second is still sad, but rocks harder and with more thought put into the arrangements. Sounds like they consciously tried to become a more dynamic group, but couldn't escape the sadness. I hate to overuse a word, but their singer has probably the saddest-sounding voice I've ever heard. He sounds like a guy who's never smiled in his life. That is dedication.)

Black Eyes - Cough (Black Eyes' best songs sound like a cross between Ornette Coleman and a kitten being set on fire. Two singers, one just talks and the other screams in an insane high-pitched voice while the band plays this weird jazzy, African-sounding music behind them. If you're in the mood, the effect is rather awesome. But if you're not, it's just a headache-inducing mess. Speaking of headaches...)
The Blood Brothers - This Adultery Is Ripe

The Blood Brothers - March On Electric Children
The Blood Brothers - ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn
The Blood Brothers - Crimes
The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes (Of all the bands that started off as a standard hardcore/screaming outfit and gradually began to incorporate more diverse influences, Seattle group The Blood Brothers were the wildest. With their youthful voices and freewheeling approach to structure, their songs often evoked images of children screaming for more cotton candy at a carnival. They made one album too many and began to feel redundant near the end, but at their best no band was more fun in a "laughing as the world burns" sort of way.)

Botch - American Nervoso

Botch - We Are The Romans (Another Seattle band, often cited as a forerunner to all the "experimental heavy" groups that materialized after they broke up in 2002. Their members ended up in lesser bands like Minus The Bear and These Arms Are Snakes. Botch gets a little too much credit for their contribution to the genre. Sure, it's a sound that plenty of bands have borrowed, but that doesn't mean it was any more adventurous than what similar bands were doing at the time. In the early days of Youtube I used to search for videos of this band and mostly all I could find were terrible live recordings. Isn't it great how far we've come since then?)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Back-up Plan part 2

Alice In Chains - Dirt
Alice In Chains - Jar Of Flies (One of the best bands of the 90s and also one of the most disappointing. I wasn't into them at the time because I used to not like slow rock music. Basically I couldn't appreciate this sort of stuff until I started getting high. Some bands take drugs and make great music. Some bands take drugs, flame out way faster than they should and fail to live up to their potential. Then years later they re-form with a new singer after their old one dies and I don't listen to them.)

And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Source Tags And Codes
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - The Secret Of Elena's Tomb
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart (Source Tags And Codes got a 10.0 rating from Pitchfork, aka the only relevant music publication left. Unfortunately, this was in 2002, before they became the taste-dictating juggernaut that they are today, so the band never got as popular as they should've.
But maybe they never would have been hugely successful anyway. There is an audience for this type of epic, emotional, and artsy rock music, but that doesn't mean it was ever going to be a mainstream one. It doesn't matter much at this point -- they have their sound and they have their fans, and anyone who's still a fan of theirs at this point will probably remain one.)

Another Statistic - 4 song demo (band from Provo that broke up a few years ago. They had a cool, sorta spacey sound, boy/girl dual vocals, and they rocked pretty hard. That's all I really know about them. Here's their myspace.

At The Drive-In - Relationship Of Command (I also have Vaya on CD, but my computer wasn't reading it, so it will remain un-backed-up. Anyway I used to be really into this band, but today their music sounds melodramatic to the point of ridiculousness. It's not that the music sounds any worse -- it's still heavy, melodic and energetic -- I just don't connect with it the way I used to. I'm 27. This is young person music. Nothing wrong with that, but still.)

The Austerity Program - Black Madonna (This band consists of two guys and a drum machine playing long, very technically structured songs that sometimes feature vocals. They seem to have a thing for economics, given their name and the slogan on their Web site -- "Too Big To Fail", long before those words became a cliche because of 2008's tremendous financial disaster. Listening to them is like turning the crank on an evil toy Jack-in-the-box, hearing the buildup music go around and around until suddenly, a riff pops out (or not). None of the songs from this album are on Youtube, so here's their myspace.

Bad Religion - Suffer (I loved this band when I was 15, when I was at the height of my punk phase. This album still kicks pretty hard, because the songs are mostly shorter than 2 minutes and the melodies are superfun to sing.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Back-up Plan

(picture a giant stack of CDs here)
Today marks day one of the most arduous and difficult task of my adult life -- beginning the process of backing up my entire CD collection (and Wendy's) on my external hard drive.

There's a couple of reasons I've been putting it off. Most of the music I care about is on the hard drive already. Plus I suspect that the only reason Wendy has been getting on me to do this for so long is because she secretly wants to throw all of our CDs in the trash. I'm a little more sentimental than that.

But mostly I guess I was reluctant to start doing this because it's going to force me to take stock. To take a long, hard look at every CD I've managed to hold onto over the years, whether bought, gifted, borrowed, or acquired through any other free-and-totally-not-illegal means. Some of this stuff I haven't listened to in years. I don't even know if it's worth backing up.

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons to do this. Wendy and I came up with these:

1. Makes it easier to share music. Someone wants something or we have a recommendation, just plug it in and drag the files over.
2. Makes it much easier to create mix CDs for the car. Wendy and I are both pretty OCD about these (a mix has to be just right or the whole thing will suck), so it makes sense to at least have a comprehensive foundation to work with.
3. One day maybe all CD players will vanish off the face of the earth.
4. Adding/deleting music from mp3 players becomes much easier.

It's that last reason that gave me the motivation to start doing this, and strangely, it was brought on by the fact that I've been listening to music on my Juke more often. I don't use the Juke as my phone anymore, but now I get more fun out of using it more as a music player than I ever did using it as a phone.

See, my iPod is 30 gigs(in reality, more like 24.70 worth of music files). It has most of the music I love. But because of that, there's no room to add anything else. It's got to the point where adding/deleting stuff becomes like cutting off one of my fingers to graft on a talon. Sure, the talon might be fearsome, but I might get sick of it and want the finger back eventually.

But having a 30 gig iPod, along with a 2 gig Juke is the ideal situation. I never have to change anything on my iPod again, and I can use the Juke to rotate music that I'm currently into as well as new music that I might even grow to love one day. Everybody wins.

Doesn't make this task any easier. While I'm doing this, I plan on logging some of my impression and experiences about the music I'm archiving, so you can all get a feel for why I never wanted to do this in the first place. For example, here's what I backed up this morning:

AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
AC/DC - Highway to Hell (if you have two AC/DC albums, you have two too many. They have some great radio hits and funny songs like "Big Balls", but to call their music one-dimensional is an insult to bands that have a dimension.)
Aesop Rock - Bazooka Tooth (I'm not really sure why I have this. I think I burned it to CD so I could delete it off my iPod or something)
Air Miami - Me. Me. Me. (I still like this album a lot. Check out a couple tracks from it below)

Alice Donut - Mule (This album is OK. I used to think it was a lot better than it was)

This could turn out to be a fruitful blog series or it could be something I tire of and abandon in a week. Either way, I know you guys will stick with me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why is he your favorite author?

Wendy asked me this question earlier today. I admit I never thought about it much before. I just thought it was enough that when I read Kafka, I know I am enjoying myself more than when I'm reading any other author.

But maybe it's not enough. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes I was able to come up with these reasons:

- I find his philosophy (that life is a series of obstacles with death as the ultimate goal) incredibly resonant and human
- His prose is neither overwritten nor underwritten, but just in between; exactly in the golden medium where all writing should be
- His stuff is funny (David Foster Wallace explains this better than I could in this essay
- He writes stories with messages, but never forces them on the reader; you're allowed to read into it whatever you want, or just take the story at face value

That was the best I could do. I could also throw out these reasons:

- His opening sentences are always strong and hook you right away
- His ability to find humor in futility is inspiring in a weird way
- His plots are totally original (for their time)
- The entire point of his writing is that life has no meaning except for what we create for ourselves; I agree with this
- He only wrote three unfinished novels and a bunch of short stories, making his catalog accessible and easy to collect
- His style (mundane presentation of extraordinary circumstances) was postmodern before there was that term
- The fact that he only wrote part-time and held down a crappy job until he died (despite being one of the most influential writers of the 20th century) fills me with respect, fear and hope

None of that seems to matter to me. All that matters is I know I can pick up The Judgment or The Trial or The Castle any time and be amused, astonished and disturbed all at the same time.

What are your reasons for holding one author in the highest esteem? Why is your favorite author your favorite author?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inception infographic

Props to dehahs (whoever that is) for making this. It's all so clear now!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dumpster diving

Saw a lot of interesting things on this last Maui trip, but this one will stay with me:

Yeah, it's a guy with no shirt on climbing into a dumpster by Lahaina Harbor. I wish I could've asked him what he was going in there for. I mean the ocean was right there.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Write Like

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I pasted several different stories in this thing and got this result most frequently. Other results I got include William Gibson, James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, and J.K. Rowling.

Try it, tell me who you write like.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Top 10 Wu-tang Clan verses

Pick one verse from each member. Pretty simple. Here are mine:

Inspectah Deck - "Triumph" (off Wu-tang Forever)
Deck is the Clan's secret weapon. Probably the most conventional one in terms of style, his straight-up no frills approach demonstrates an extremely proficient grasp of technical rhyme structure and rhythmic dynamism. All-group tracks tend to bring the best out of him, and he brings his A-game from the first bar to the last in this lead-off verse which has become so iconic that when other members of the Clan perform this track solo, they just let the audience fill in every one of his lines.
Standout line: "Heads buy the score, take flight incite a war/Chicks hit the floor, die-hard fans demand more"

GZA - "Back In The Game" (off Iron Flag)
If there's one Clansman who can start with a single theme the basis of the verse and run with it, it's the Genius. Whether it's the music industry ("Protect Ya Neck", "Labels") or envisioning the rapper as a track & field runner ("Protect Ya Neck (The Jump-Off)" he simply has a knack for getting the most out of a metaphor. Here, he posits the Clan as high-stakes gamblers.
Standout line: "We were at the same table when the chips were checked. A gambling rebel who Inspects the Deck. Just when you thought we would fold our hand, against all odds we raised the bet like we changed the plan"

Method Man - "Gravel Pit" (off The W)
Meth has the most versatile flow in the group, making himself equally at home on overtly commercial tracks and dark, cerebral Wu-bangers. It's evident he's the only guy on this song who doesn't sound in over his head. Adapting his smooth, laid-back voice into a rapid-fire rap, he gives the song a more hyper feel than the beat probably deserves.
Standout line: "Pass the blunt, my nigga don't front. You had it for a minute but it seemed like a month. Now I'm chokin, smoking, hopin I don't croakin from overdosin"

Ol' Dirty Bastard - "Shame On A Nigga" (off Enter The Wu-tang: 36 Chambers)
It's impossible to explain how special ODB was. Maybe it's enough that on a song where beloved members Method Man and Raekwon both lay down a couple of their most memorable verses, Ol' Dirty completely owns the joint.
Standout line: "I come with that old local style from my vocals, couldn't peep it with a pair of bifocals. I'm no joker, play me as a joker, be on you like a house on fire, smoke ya!"

RZA - "Impossible" (off Wu-tang Forever)
You'd need a whole chapter's worth of end notes to understand what RZA is talking about here. But the words themselves are fun enough to listen to that the track works as a rambling, abstract sermon. I love how he mispronounces "benevolent" as "benelovent" and makes up the word "examin-ated".
Standout line: "My occupation is to stop the inauguration of Satan. Some claim that it was Reagan, so I come to slay men. Like Bartholomew cause every particle this physical article is diabolical to the last visible molecule"

Raekwon - "C.R.E.A.M." (off Enter The Wu-tang: 36 Chambers)
I've never been a huge fan of Raekwon. He was good on the first album and has faded into the background for me ever since. This verse is definitely his finest moment. Though it's telling that Deck's followup verse is arguably even better, and it's not even his best.
Standout line: "Yo, nigga respect mine, or anger the tec-9, ch-cha-POW! Move from the gate now"

Ghostface Killah - "The Projects" (off Wu-tang Forever)
This won't be a popular choice. But of all the Wu verses that leave me in hysterics, none of them is funnier than this one. I wonder whether Ghost was just trying to break the record for how many times he could use the word "p*ssy" in a verse without even rhyming it with anything.
Standout line: "Lightning rod bob, black candy cane attached to God
Thick, like a great adventure cigar, in your garage"

Masta Killa - "Duel of the Iron Mic" (off GZA's Liquid Swords)
I tried to avoid stuff from the solo albums for the most part, but this track, from GZA's 2nd solo album is too incredible to ignore. As for Masta, he's the most misunderstood member of the Clan. His style gets knocked because it's so unconventional - he rarely puts his rhymes at the end of his lines, and his borderline-comatose delivery can be hard to warm up to. I like him because he's one of the few rappers that can manage to sneak a complete sentence or two in the mix.
Standout line: "Who can withstand the astonishing, punishing stings to the sternum? Shock in the hip-hop livestock, seeking for a serum, to cure em"

U-God - "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" (off Enter the Wu-tang: 36 Chambers)
U had the most f'd-up voice in the whole Clan on their first album, and that's saying something. Like Clint Eastwood's character from "Gran Torino" was black and chain-smoked cigars all through recording. This verse is the shortest in the whole song, but also the most unforgettable (unless you prefer Masta Killa's closing verse).
Standout line: "Weak MCs approach with slang that's dead, you might as well run into the wall and bang your head"

Cappadonna - "Winter Warz" (off Ghostface Killah's Ironman)
Another solo track, but also impossible to leave out. Cappa takes the last verse and manages to upstage U-God, Masta Killa, Raekwon and even Ghostface for two full minutes. You know how rappers always say they "can't stop/don't stop"? On this verse it literally feels like Cappadonna CAN NOT STOP. It's like he's on a runaway train of dope rhymes that only comes to an end because RZA cuts it off.
Standout line: "I'm too ill, I represent Park Hill, see my face on a $20 bill. Cash it in, and get $10 back, the phat LP with Cappa-chino on the wax"