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They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Favorite albums of the decade

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

Notice I changed the “best of” to “favorite” after conversations with a few different people. The bottom line is, no matter what anyone calls these lists, it’s all opinion. The top critic in the world could release a “best of” list, but it doesn’t mean there is a science to it or that his or her list is the list of all lists or based on any sort of facts. It’s simply based on opinion.

For this list, I started off with a list of literally hundreds of albums that were released in the 2000s and I was going to narrow it down to between 75 and 100 albums but I found this list a lot harder to create than the movies one. So, I settled on 35.

The criteria is somewhat the same as it was for movies. Which albums stand the test of time, which ones can you play over and over again without getting sick of, creativity, lyrics and instrumentals/beats.

35. Yellowcard - Lights and Sounds (2006) This album was probably a disappointment to fans of 2003s double platinum, Ocean’s Avenue, because on Lights and Sounds, this Florida band ditched the pop punk act and went in a darker and more political direction and to me, it stands as their best album. Best track: Martin Sheen or JFK

34. Gym Class Heroes - The Papercut Chronicles (2005) Frontman Travis McCoy surprised everyone after he won an MTV2 rap battle and took the earnings to establish his indie rock/hip-hop band and their second offering, The Papercut Chronicles, is about as unique as an album gets with McCoy rapping and singing over simple, light rock instruments. Best track: Petrified Life and the Twice Told Joke

33. Bone Thugs N Harmony - Strength and Loyalty (2007) Cleveland’s own was in danger of falling off the map after being around since the early 1990s but with the help of some top notch producers, Bone was able to put out their first listenable album in nearly a decade concluding with the track Never Forget Me, which was literally my ringer for two and a half years and also the album’s best track.

32. Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III (2008) The New Orleans rapper released three Carter editions this decade, but the third installment was easily the most consistent and he made significant jumps as a lyricist. Critics have since hailed him the best rapper alive, but I’m not going that far. Best track: Mr. Carter feat. Jay-Z

31. Thursday - A City By The Light Divided (2006) Thursday burst into the mainstream with 2003s War All The Time following the very raw Full Collapse in 2001, but ACBTLD is their most emotional work and is quite softer than their previous material. Check out the track Autumn Leaves Revisited, which is by far my favorite Thursday song.

30. Taking Back Sunday - Where You Want to be (2004) Their first album following their year-long break-up with two new members, TBS switched their style slightly to a more mainstream audience and it paid huge dividends as it garnered them their first significant sniff of the Billboard charts opening at No. 3 in its first week. Best track: The Union

29. Eminem - Marshall Mathers LP (2000) No one really knew what to think of Eminem after his first 1999 release, The Slim Shady LP, but after this release, it was clear he was among hip hop giants. Everything from his flow, rhyming capabilities and his overall lyricism was far superior to most other rappers out there. Best track: Stan

28. My Chemical Romance - Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004) The album that brought MCR into the spotlight and garnered them three humongous hits while they spew about death, vampires and ghosts. Best track: I Never Told You What I Do For A Living

27. Straylight Run - The Needles, The Space (2007) This album rubbed me the wrong way upon my first few listens until I put it aside for a few months and then really went to town on it. The band consists of former Taking Back Sunday guitarist John Nolan and his sister, Michelle. The song Buttoned Down, is easily in my top 10 songs of the decade.

26. System of a Down - Mezmerize/Hypnotize
(2005) System of a Down is a band I wouldn’t normally enjoy because of their heavy metal/hard rock roots, and I hate metal music. But I’ve really come to love lead singer Serj Tankian and although this is considered a double album, the discs were actually released six months apart from each other. Toxicity may have been the band’s break out album in 2001, but I don’t consider it to be their best. Best Track: Lonely Day

25. Unwritten Law: Music in High Places (2003) This is an all acoustic album from the California punk band that formed in 1990 and it offers acoustic renditions of songs from their various albums. It’s one of the better acoustic albums I have, but only the second best of the decade. Best track: Shallow

24. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007) Modest Mouse has put together a very impressive decade with three solid releases but this is the one that pulls me in and keeps me coming back for more. I originally thought they couldn’t have outdone 2005s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, but I think with unforgettable tracks like Spitting Venom, Little Motel and Parting of the Sensory, it blows the other two albums out of the water. Best track: Parting of the Sensory

23. Northstar - Pollyanna (2004) This short-lived indie-rock band broke up not even a year following the release of this 11-track album but I’m glad they at least got this one out of their system before departing the industry. Lead singer, Nick Torres still to this day has one of my favorite voices in music as he is now the frontman of a a band called Cassino. Best track: The Pornographers daughter

22. Jay-Z - The Black Album (2003) I know, I know. Everyone’s favorite Jay-Z album is either Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint but on what was supposed to be Jay-Z’s last album, he goes out with a bang with incredible lyricism and top notch production on The Black Album. To me, it was his goodbye to the music industry and it honestly feels like he put everything into this album that he had left in him. In hindsight, it was all hogwash as he has released three albums since. However, like Master P, he should have stayed retired while he was still on the top of his game. While many people may even go as far as putting The Blueprint near the top of albums of the decade’s list, I never considered myself to be any sort of die-hard Jay-Z fan, so the Blueprint just doesn’t appeal the same to me as it does to his hardcore fans. Best track: My 1st Song

21. Nas - Hip Hop is Dead (2006) The album that brought Nas to the legendary Def Jam record label after being signed by Jay-Z. It also marks the first album the two appear on record together for the first time ever on Black Republican. This album is exactly about what the title suggests, the death of hip hop music. Best track: Black Republican feat. Jay-z

20. Bright Eyes - Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (2002) This was Bright Eyes breakthrough album and as all Bright Eyes albums, can be a complicated listen. Conor Oberst can write about anything and succeed. Whether it’s about love, loneliness or politics (lots of politics), he writes and sings with a passion that is unparalleled to others his age as he was only 22-years-old when this album was released. Best track: Bowl of Oranges

19. Jimmy Eat World - Futures (2004) I feel Jimmy Eat World may be one of the most underrated, most unappreciated bands of the past 15 years. Continuing to put out solid albums every three to four years, Futures is no exception. While darker than their previous release, the pop-filled, mainstream breakthrough album, Bleed American, Futures is packed with dark, melodic and catchy choruses and is host to one of my favorite songs of the decade, the track, 23.

18. Blink 182 - Self Titled (2003) My personal favorite Blink 182 album because they decided to get serious and when they are actually trying to be mature, they make great music together. Unfortunately, after this release they broke up. Fortunately, in 2009, they got back together and are scheduled to record again together in 2010. Best track: I’m Lost Without You

17. Kanye West - Late Registration (2005) Many people may say The College Dropout is West’s greatest album, but not me. While West has been up and down this decade, both musically and mentally, Late Registration was his most consistent release out of his four albums this decade. Best track: Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix) feat. Jay-Z

16. Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory (2000) I hated Linkin Park when they first came out because I simply didn’t get what was going on. Rock vocals over hip hop beats? Rap versus over rock instruments in addition to screaming, whispering and lots of noise? Don’t get it confused, Limp Bizkit they are not, and somewhere along the lines I became enticed with their style and obviously, so has the rest of the world as they’ve become one of the best selling, most popular bands of the decade. Hybrid Theory is what started it all. Best track: Pushing Me Away

15. Panic at the Disco - Pretty. Odd. (2008) Yep, that is a Panic at the Disco album in my top 15. Changing their style completely just into their second album, they completely ripped off the Beatles from head to toe on this sophomore album but it sounds so good. Just don’t expect to hear another album like this from them, as Ryan Ross, the inspiration for the style change, has left the band following creative differences. Best track: Behind the Sea

14. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way
(2002) To me, and I’m probably in the minority when saying this, this band seems to have gotten better with age. I didn’t care for them too much in the early to mid-90s (let alone the late 80s) with their funk/hip-hop/rock style but their style changed drastically with 1999s released of Californication, which in my opinion, is their best album to date. Going with a more alternative and solid rock approach, By The Way picks up where Californication leaves off. Best track: Don’t Forget Me

13. Bayside - Acoustic (2006) Bayside, a band that is not known for having any acoustic material hashed out this 10-song acoustic record following the death of their drummer after a car crash that also left the band’s bassist hospitalized and it turned into my favorite Bayside album, a band that has four solid releases besides this one. The track Winter, which is dedicated to the drummer, John “Beatz” Holohan, is the highlight of this album.

12. Nas - God’s Son (2002) “Jesus finally got his bride, mommy dance with him.” Nas most personal album where he discusses the passing of his mother in the majority of his songs, even pointing out that his mother died in his arms after falling victim to cancer. He dedicates the extremely emotional track Dance to her, a song in which he envisions having one last dance with his mother before she is sent to Heaven. Best track: The Cross

11. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade (2006) Taking a page from Green Day’s book, MCR created their own rock opera that is almost just as good as American Idiot. This album drew comparisons to Queen and Pink Floyd by many critics. The track, Welcome to the Black Parade is almost a complete rip-off of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but it works so well virtually no one can be angry. Best track: Mama

10. Lupe Fiasco - Food and Liquor (2006) You don’t see debut’s like this anymore. I remember the first time I sat through this album and upon the conclusion I literally said out loud “this is one of the better rap albums I’ve heard in years.” The Chicago native is not like other rappers, as his music has more of an alternative rap feel to it. Best track: Daydreamin’ feat. Jill Scott

9. The Used - Self Titled (2002) A great pop-hard rock album, if there ever was such. The Used crossed over into the mainstream by being slightly harder than their peers thanks to some solid hits, The Taste of Ink, Blue and Yellow and Buried Myself Alive but it’s the lesser recognized acoustic On My Own, which steals the show.

8. Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me (2006) This album is just like the title suggests it is, insane. It’s dark and constantly questions one’s morality with a side plot about a girl who was decapitated in a car crash hours after being the flower girl at her mother’s wedding (true story, by the way.) It goes from you-could-hear-a-pin-drop soft to erratically loud. Best track: Limousine

7. Green Day - American Idiot (2004) This veteran punk rock band really outdid themselves with this 57 minute rock opera that garnered them a Grammy for best rock album in 2005. They’ve always been able to put together a handful of solid songs on each album, but never an entire display of thoughtful, creative solid tracks from start to finish, until now. Best track: Whatsername

6. Bright Eyes - I’m Wike Awake, It’s Morning (2005) Conor Oberst may just have been the best songwriter of the decade (he was named Rolling Stone’s songwriter of the year in 2008) but it’s his off pitched voice that keeps him from becoming one of the biggest stars in music today and even he admits it on the 10th and final track, Road to Joy, where he states “Well I could have been a famous singer/If I had someone else’s voice.” Despite the fact, Oberst created a near masterpiece with I’m Wide Awake which sounds more like a folk album then a indie rock album. Best track: Poison Oak

5. Eminem - The Eminem Show (2002) Eminem’s most personal and serious album to date packed with punch you in the head beats by himself and Dr. Dre. While some consider The Marshall Mathers LP to be his classic album, I have to disagree and say it’s this one right here. Best track: Til’ I Collapse

4. Royce da 5’9” - Death is Certain (2004) One of the darkest hip hop albums I’ve ever heard, as well as one of the most emotional, as Royce discusses his battle with alcoholism and his falling out with Dr. Dre and Eminem and his general hatred towards the hip hop genre. Best track: Death Is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts)

3. Taking Back Sunday - Tell All Your Friends (2002) If there was a soundtrack to my senior year of high school, this is easily it. At just 10 tracks, TBS packs in the catchiest sing-a-longs filled with raw emotion and back and fourth vocals about friendships coming to an end (the majority of this album is written about Brand New’s lead singer, Jesse Lacey). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this album front to back, it’s easily in the hundreds. Not to mention, how many rock bands can get Flavor Flav to be the main character in their video (You’re So Last Summer)? Best track: Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From The Team)

2. Brand New - Deja Entendu (2003) This is the album where the Long Island, NY. band took the emo-tag they were given following their first release and properly threw it on the ground, stomped on it and forever changed their style with each and every single album they’ve released this decade. Deja is a classic album moving from melodic, to acoustic, to heartfelt dealing with love, death, being taken advantage of and taking advantage of. Lacey’s serious, but smart aleck/tongue-in-cheek lyrics are brilliant (“I’m heaven sent/Don’t you dare forget/I am, all you ever wanted/what all the other boys all promised/Sorry I told. I just need you to know” Lacey sings on Okay I believe you but my Tommy Gun Don’t.) Best track: Play Crack the Sky

1. Nas - Stillmatic (2001) Left for dead, Nas came back with a serious vengeance on Stillmatic. After getting involved in one of the biggest rap battles of all-time with Jay-Z (the two have since reconciled), Nas rhymed with a fire and a passion that had been missing since his first album, Illmatic. This was his make or break album, he hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back since with a decade full of solid releases from one of the best rappers of all-time. This album contains so many unforgettable songs (Ether, One Mic, What Goes Around...just to name a few) that 8 years after it’s release, it’s still a staple in my car’s CD player at least a few times a month and my personal favorite Nas album. Yes, I like this even more than Illmatic, which many critics call the best hip hop album of all-time. Best track: Ether

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What a difference a decade makes

For the longest time, two things annoyed me:

1. Listening to crappy music on the radio, with no control over the playlist.

2. Missing a favorite TV show.

That was then. Now, there are little worries for most of us when it comes to the music we want to listen to and our favorite TV shows and when we want to watch them. Which brings us to today's topic: The best gadgets of the past decade.

Hands down, it's the ipod and the DVR, in no particular order. Here's why:

The ipod: I can't remember the last time I listened to music on the radio, which is so refreshing. Irritating DJs, horrible songs, mindless talk radio and commercials are things of the past. Now, we have complete control over our playlist and podcasts on a gadget as compact as your wallet. Thank you Apple.

The DVR: Sorry corporate America, most of the American public doesn't care about your TV commercials, unless it's Super Bowl Sunday. The ability to watch a one-hour TV show in about 40 minutes is reason enough to love the DVR. There's also the super time-saver plan many of us have grown to love. Who doesn't appreciate watching three or four TV shows in one sitting?

- Mark Podolski

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ten favorite albums of 2009

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

I originally said that I was going to wait until the end of December to make this list because I was waiting on some of the releases near the holidays. However, I realized the only release that I'm looking forward to during the holidays is Lupe Fiasco's Lasers, and we all know that will crack everyone's top three and make a serious running for my number one album of the year. So, no need to wait on that.

Here goes my top ten favorite albums of the year in a rather unimpressive year for releases.

10. Ace Enders & A Million Different People - When I Hit the Ground: Enders, the former frontman of The Early November, released his third solo release but the result still sounds like The Early November, which is good news for me and TEN fans.

Best track

9. Taking Back Sunday - New Again: Easily the band’s worst album but in a year that didn’t create too many great releases, New Again is still a solid alternative rock album that showed a major change in direction following the addition of guitarist Matt Fazzi prior to this release. The lyrical content is much more mature as many of the songs deal with lead singer Adam Lazzara’s break-up with his fiance and revealing past personal demons.

Best track

8. Joe Budden - Padded Room: Joe Budden literally should be in a padded room. Budden remains one of the most honest and emotional rappers out there as he continuously discusses personal issues adding that he needs everyone to pray for him and he needs to find an angel in his life. After all the music industry hardships Budden has experienced over the past six years, it was nice to see him have such a strong 2009. He raps on Angel in my Life, “Thinking about death, wondering how I’m going to go/I can’t be insane for just wanting to know/In my head I die often/I used to think of suicide often/Good suit on and in a nice coffin/But that isn’t something I’d try myself/Still, they locked me in this room all by myself/I think I need an angel in my life.”

7. The Used - Artwork: Just when I was debating on whether or not to write this band off, they completely redeemed themselves with the release of Artwork. This is the album that brings them the closest to their hard pop rock roots that filled up their debut in 2002.

Best track

6. Silverstein - A Shipwreck in the Sand: Similar to the above scenario I didn’t think this band had much left in them and they completely surprised me with this release. Shipwreck is a concept album mostly about the recession that we are currently in and how it is affecting family life, especially marriages.

Best track

5. John Nolan - Height: Former Taking Back Sunday guitarist and current Straylight Run frontman, Nolan releases his first solo album and although just nine tracks, it is just as incredible as anything he has done with either of the bands he has been involved in. After the first few listens, I wasn’t as impressed as I am now after listening to it for more than a month. This is also the album he tries to come the closest to looking like Jesus Christ (as you'll see below.)

Best track

4. P.O.S. - Never Better: P.O.S. got his slight taste of mainstream earlier this year with his third release. P.O.S. style is almost impossible to explain as he is a rapper but his punk rock roots stay close to his heart as almost all the songs on the album are rapped over guitar riffs and drum loops.

Best track and a big fan of this video

3. Slaughterhouse - Self-titled: Four rappers left for dead, Royce da 5’9,” Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I, became so fed up with the music industry that they joined forces to create one big hip hop heavyweight album. Whether this is a one time thing or not, they almost released a classic album the first time around. These four lyricists are undeniably on par, if not better than, the very few hip hop elitists that remain out there today, lyrically speaking.

2. Brand New - Daisy: Their fourth release. Their fourth complete transition. The band admitted after making this record and listening to it, they had no idea what they did and lead singer Jesse Lacey has admitted the album is so exhausting, he can only listen to two or three songs at a time before turning it off. Nonetheless, this album is special as it combines a very post-grunge feel to their already established alternative melodic approach. I can't even fathom the thought of where they will go next.

Best track

1. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing: Similar to Brand New, this band specializes in being able to put so many different musical styles into a release. Mean Everything to Nothing is filled with a few energetic rock songs that sound nothing similar to the quiet ones. From the first track “The Only One” to the last hidden track, “Jimmy, He Whispers,” this album ranges from classic rock, to alternative to just downright sad at times. This band has had a breakout year and I expect many big things to come from them in the future.

Best track