Every Which Way But Loose (or Any Which Way You Can?)

What we used to call "albums":

Lady Gaga, Born This Way So, is this it? The moment when Gaga the persona stopped being interesting because Gaga the person (it's slipped through the cracks despite her best efforts at playing the blank slate) isn't? While the moment itself was inevitable, I assumed the music, which never felt secondary to her celebrity until now, had legs enough to carry her a couple years further. Not that this record is bad, or as boring as the socially well-meaning but insufferably self-serious young woman promoting it on the interview circuit. In fact, there's plenty to like, yet, to these ears anyway, nothing to love. Hell, I'd take "Just Dance" Akon-an'-all over anything on Born This Way, not to speak of "Paparazzi," "Bad Romance," "Telephone," even "Boys Boys Boys." I still like the idea of Gaga and, more importantly, the aforementioned songs enough to not give up on her. She certainly cares, which is a good thing, but maybe it's possible to give too much of a fuck?

Britney Spears, Femme Fatale If Britney's latest is less ferociously meta-personal than the phoenix-from-the-ashes triumphs of Blackout and Circus, it's at least as through-inspired, perhaps more so than the latter. If you omit the dud sandwiched in the middle, it might be the most start-to-finish sparkling dance-pop collection since Kylie's Fever. Britney's never been more locked into the groove than she is here; her signature-thin vocal never gets lost in the mix, but rather flits and weaves expertly around it. Oh, and there's songs here, too. And they're really good. See: "I Wanna Go," "'Til the World Ends," "Inside Out." Then see: "Criminal," "How I Roll," and "Trip to Your Heart." It's like a perfect dream of pop presided over by an artist old enough, and (yes) smart enough, to know better but damn good enough at what she does for a living to keep the party going for the better part of an hour.

The Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck Six tracks in, I was ready to, again, write about "the best Mountain Goats record since the last one" and call it a day--nothing lost, nothing gained except another entirely fine Darnielle disc. Then--voila!--a song called "High Hawk Season" instantly rewrote the blurb you're reading, like an out-of-nowhere eleventh-hour comeback that forces a sportswriter to scrap the game recap he'd almost finished writing. Backed by a vocal trio listed as the North Mountain Singers, the song sounds like nothing else in the extensive Mountain Goats catalogue. Upon repeat listens, Darnielle and Co. are trying new things all over this album, just more subtly than on the singularly beautiful "High Hawk Season." He isn't just our most consistently excellent songwriter. He's an artist who remains stunningly capable of changing the game. And All Eternals Deck isn't just "the best Mountain Goats record since the last one"--it's up there with Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree.

Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music From a promising Nashville up-and-comer. this would earn high marks. From Brad Paisley? We expect more, which is our problem but his fault: His last--what, four? five?--records, excluding the guitar curio, have upped the ante exponentially, not just setting the standard for radio country but expanding it in ways that feel as natural as they do meaningful. There's a reason why rock critics who typically avoid Nashville fare christened American Saturday Night as something of a cause celebre. Me? I like country music just fine without Brad's boundary-blurring smarts, though more with them. And they're not absent from this record, mainly because Paisley is more articulate in his trad move than his less clever contemporaries are trying to play cool. This Is Country Music is only reactionary insofar as it subtly implies that the broader scope of Paisley's recent work might not be.


Sight and Sound

I've had a couple good conversations recently on the best uses of pop music in movies and on television, so I've decided to post some of my favorite examples. These are culled from what's available on YouTube, and they're just off the top of my head, not listed in any sort of preferential order. I've been rather wordy lately, so I'll just let the sounds and images in the clips posted below speak for themselves. Enjoy!

"The Rhythm of the Night" by Corona in Beau Travail

"The Great Gig in the Sky" by Pink Floyd in Good Morning, Night (at 1:40)

"Only You" by the Flying Pickets in Fallen Angels (at 2:40)

"California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas in Chungking Express

"Eyes on the Prize" by The Emmaus Group Singers in Green Card (at 2:40)

"Come Here" by Kath Bloom in Before Sunrise

"Be My Baby" by the Ronettes in Mean Streets (at 0:42)

"Take Me Home, Country Roads" (originally by John Denver) in Whisper of the Heart

"Oh Yoko" by John Lennon in Rushmore (at 1:10)

"Young Americans" by David Bowie in Dogville

"Pale Blue Eyes" by the Velvet Underground in Adventureland
(at 2:41; embedding disabled)

"Sinnerman" by Nina Simone in Inland Empire (embedding disabled)

"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey in The Sopranos (at 0:54)

"Overcome" by Live in The Shield

"The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." by Daveigh Chase in Big Love

"Babylon" by David Carbonara in Mad Men (embedding disabled)

"Wild Horses" by the Sundays in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (embedding disabled)


Write Not Riot

As a fan of great, inventive sports writing, Grantland, the brainchild of the compulsively readable Bill Simmons, is something of a dream come true. Check out Simmons on the Stanley Cup finals (still a good read, after the fact); Jay Caspian Kang on the exquisite corpse of LeBron James; Chuck Klosterman on the NBA's bizarre-when-you-stop-to-think-about-it halfcourt rule; and Chris Jones on what the Stanley Cup means to Canadian cities.

On that last note, as a sports fan living in the beautiful city of Vancouver, I truly appreciate the smart, thoughtful content of Grantland as an antidote to the depressing idiocy of the riots that erupted here following the Canucks' Game 7 loss. On the game itself, I have fairly little to add: The Canucks appeared gassed, nervous, and stiff, while the Bruins looked like they were playing with the house's money. But, really, the writing was on the wall, and many fans here just refused to recognize it. The key stats heading into Game 7 weren't so much that the home team had won the first six games or that the team that scored first had gone on to victory in each game. Rather, it was that if you disregard the impossibly tight first two games played here, the Bruins had won three of the past four and outscored the Canucks 17-4 over that span. With this in mind, the deciding game felt as inevitable as it did dispiriting, though not finally as dispiriting as watching your city get smashed and burned by a bunch of macho-posturing losers.


Das Champion

Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks, 2011's deserving NBA champions. As a Lakers fan, it's validating, if not comforting, to see the Mavs dispatch the Heat in six. And besides, it's nice to see Dirk and Kidd finally score some rings.

And what have we learned this postseason?

The league's New Guard hasn't quite usurped its Old Guard, despite early signs to the contrary. Yes, the Spurs, Celtics, and Lakers fell early (though the latter to another veteran club), but Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant couldn't will their teams past the semis and LeBron remains ring-less.

This, of course, is the biggest story of these Finals, more than Dirk (who can now officially no longer be accused of being soft or wilting under pressure), Kidd (who might now have the edge on Steve Nash for best point guard of their generation), Cuban (David Stern must be thrilled), Wade (who has already won a ring at the Mavs' expense), and Bosh (who exceeded expectations, where LeBron succumbed to them). LeBron was fine tonight--certainly better than the measly eight points he contributed in Game 4. But fine is simply not good enough for the game's supposed premier talent--and for a dude so egocentric (or, more likely, poorly advised) that he starred in an ESPN special declaring his "decision" to "take [his] talents to South Beach" last offseason.

Look, I like LeBron, and as a fan of the NBA and of exciting basketball in general, I want to watch with amazement when this undeniably phenomenal athlete finds that extra gear and takes over in pivotal moments. But how much longer do we keep giving him the benefit of the doubt that such a gear exists in his arsenal? And how much longer can LeBron remain the league's signature star (give or take an aging Kobe) without winning a championship? If, for instance, this Heat experiment doesn't deliver over the next few seasons, and in that time, Durant and/or D-Rose succeed, can we still with a straight face call this guy "King"? Wouldn't he just be one of those obscenely-rich-but-effectively-for-show royals (like the present-day British monarchy)?

That's all hypothetical, natch. The trio of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh came within two wins of a title their first season together. They might very well win it all next year. Yet even then, if it's either (or both) of the latter two players who are primarily to credit in the clutch, that LBJ question mark will likely remain.

More importantly (to me, right now), here's to hoping that tomorrow evening, another Western Conference team that wears blue and green and is attempting to reverse a history of futility prevails in their Game 6 on the East Coast....(Go Canucks Go!)