Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Music Collector

In the past few weeks, I have had the fortune of finding three White Stripes albums in thrift stores; I am now the proud owner of White Blood Cells, Elephant, and Icky Thump. I'm only missing two of their studio albums now - De Stijl and Get Behind Me, Satan - which I find both invigorating and frustrating. Gone are the days in which I just go buy the albums I don't own in order to fill up my collection (even on iTunes), so I end up having to wait to find them in thrift stores. There is something about the thrill of the hunt, and about not paying full (or more-than-full) price for an album that makes it worthwhile.(Also, I don't always like just being able to buy things on iTunes. There's still something about finding and owning a physical album that iTunes can't match.) There's also the fact that I currently have over one hundred albums on my "to-buy" list, not withstanding any new releases, and I know that I probably should not spend over $1000 on completing my ever-incomplete music collection. Of course, it's also not just as easy as prioritizing albums from 1 to 100+; some albums shift at times, and a lot of albums are at about the same ranking (ie. I wouldn't be able to choose out of a group of them). So, I wait, and I ponder, and I compulsively check thrift shops. Here are some of the different categories of albums to give you an idea of how I think about buying and collecting music.

"White Whales" - the finds that would make my jaw drop because I've been waiting so long. In the past, this category has featured Argyle Park's Misguided and The Juliana Theory's Emotion Is Dead. Here are my current top 5:
AP2 - Suspension of Disbelief
Circle of Dust - any album
Ed Roland – Ed-E Roland
Five Iron Frenzy - Upbeats and Beatdowns
Five Iron Frenzy - Electric Boogaloo

The "I can't believe I don't own this album yet" category: I usually save this for albums that have been on my list for several (ie. at least 3-5 years). They're not quite rare or unusual enough to be considered "white whales", which is why they're here. I could go buy them at anytime, and I'm not really too sure why I haven't yet. Here are my top 5.
Johnny Cash – Unearthed (a 5CD set, but still the only part of Johnny's American era that I do not yet own)
Moby - 18 B-Sides (+ DVD) (almost a "white whale" at this point)
Sufjan Stevens - Michigan
White Stripes - Get Behind Me, Satan
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

It seems like every year that I buy less and less music, and last year is no exception, as I bought around only a dozen new albums. I know that's still one a month, but when there is so much good music out there, it's hard to limit myself! Here are eleven albums in 2011 that I feel like I should have already bought.
Blindside – With Shivering Hearts We Wait
Decemberists – The King Is Dead
Emery – We Do What We Want
Feist – Metals
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Florence & the Machine – Ceremonials
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Moby – Destroyed
Mutemath – Odd Soul
Thrice – Major/Minor
Wilco – The Whole Love

It really kind of bugs me when there's one album by a band, other than new(ish) releases, that I don't own. I'm a notorious collector, so I like to have all albums by an artist. Here are my top 11 (12) albums, each at least two years old, that would complete my collection for each artists (or at least complete the collection other than the "white whales" or newest releases).
As Cities Burn – Hell or High Water
Collective Soul – Afterwords
Death Cab – The Open Door EP, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes
Demon Hunter – The World Is A Thorn
Emery – While Broken Hearts Prevail… EP
Jon Foreman – Fall, Winter/Spring + Summer
Keane – Night Train EP
Moby – Last Night
Stavesacre - How To Live With A Curse
Thrice - If We Could Only See Us Now

Then there are some artists that are sometimes significantly underrepresented in my collection. Many of these are artists I have only started listening to in the past few years, and for whom I own usually only one album. Here are my top 5 underrepresented artsts in my collection:
Killswitch Engage - only As Daylight Dies
mewithoutYou - none
The National - only Boxer
Pedro the Lion - only It's Hard To Find A Friend
Wilco - only A Ghost Is Born

Some artists, while seemingly equally absent from my collection, may not be as underrepresented. These are the artists I would classify in the "slowly building my collection" phase. Several of them, I realize, only have one or two albums I don't own, which is why they're not listed above. Here are ten examples:
Arrogant Worms
City & Colour
Copeland
Deas Vail
Feist
Flight of the Conchords
Mae
Needtobreathe
Sigur Ros / Jonsi
The Swell Season

Then, finally, there are some new(ish) artists, or maybe who have a second album (or more) that are still just outside my purchasing profile. They could bump into another list easily, but here are eight artists who I've started listening to in the past few years whose albums I will buy, but who are currently AWOL from my collection.
Anchor and Braille
Bon Iver
Gungor
The Head and the Heart
Jakob Dylan
Neon Horse
Patrick Watson
Seabird

So, there you have it - a fairly thorough profile of my current thoughts on the biggest holes in my music collection. It always surprises me how reflective I can be in this process; then again, that's kind of my M.O. If you need me, I'll be flipping through CDs at the Salvation Army, not downloading from iTunes - it's just not my style.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Finals Predictions

Well, this may have been my worst playoff prediction pattern yet: I can't finish above .500 in my predictions (the best I can do is 7-8 if I predict the Finals correctly); neither of my Finalists made the Finals; and I was correct on only one of four Conference Finalists. Then again, last year I had only one Conference Finalist and Finalist correct (the Canucks), but I was 9-6 for the whole playoffs. Anyway, here are some of my observations on the Conference Finals.

(1) New York vs. (6) New Jersey - Wrong team, right number of games. The Rangers showed their youth, and the Devils showed their experience. The Rangers were also really exhausted; I guess there's a reason no team has won a Cup after playing a seventh game in each of the first two rounds. It became clear early on in the series just how much the Rangers were playing past their limit of endurance and experience, and the Devils won their second consecutive series handily.

(3) Phoenix vs. (8) Los Angeles - Right team, wrong number of games. LA has played one of the most dominant playoffs in perhaps the most unlikely run ever (well, aside from the 2006 Oilers). LA has taken 3-0 series leads in all three series, and they have only lost twice - both in Game 4 at home, looking to close out the series against a desperate opponent. Phoenix played valiantly, but they couldn't even make the two wins I thought they would.

And now for my predictions for the Finals:

(6) New Jersey vs. (8) Los Angeles - The winner will be the lowest-seeded winner in the almost two decades of this format of playoff seeding; the previously lowest-ranked were the 1995 New Jersey Devils - with Martin Brodeur in goal. It would be easy to break down the whole match-up, piece by piece, but I think this series will come down to the intangibles, since either team could win the series, and the two teams could replay it seven times with seven different outcomes, winner and games played all considered. So, what are the intangibles? This is probably Brodeur's last chance for a Cup, which might be motivation for him and his team; then again, players like Carter and Richards are still waiting for their chance after losing in 2010. It comes down to the fact that the Kings are playing better hockey right now, and although the Devils will push them a bit, I think that the Kings are going to take the series in six games, winning the Cup on home ice. There you have it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top 5: Nintendo 64 edition

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about game collecting (thanks to the subreddit), particularly about the Nintendo 64. I still own my original N64 - purchased on Boxing Day 1998 with money from my first job - along with 17 games, but every once in awhile, I wonder what I might be missing. As it turns out, after going through the complete list of games, there are twenty games I completely missed on the system that I would love to find and play sometime. Here are some of my "Top 5" lists about the N64.

Top 5 N64 games, period:
Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Mario Kart 64
Super Mario 64
Super Smash Bros.

Top 5 games I did not finish:
Blast Corps
Goldeneye 007
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Star Fox 64
Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire

Top 5 multiplayer games:
F-Zero X
Mario Kart 64
Mario Party 2
Mario Tennis
Super Smash Bros.

Top 5 N64 games I used to own that I wish I had not sold:
Excitebike 64
Goldeneye 007
Jet Force Gemini
Paper Mario
Yoshi’s Story

Top 5 platformers I did not play that I would like to try:
Banjo-Tooie
Conker's Bad Fur Day
Earthworm Jim 3D
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
Mega Man 64

Top 5 sports/racing games I did not play that I would like to try:
1080 Snowboarding
Extreme-G
Pilotwings 64
Wave Race 64
Wipeout 64

Top 5 games based on existing licenses that I'd probably like to try sometime:
Bomberman 64
Castlevania
Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness
Lego Racers
Space Invaders

Top 5 "forgotten games" that I never played but that might still be really good:
Buck Bumble
Chameleon Twist
Mischief Makers
Space Station: Silicon Valley
Tonic Trouble

And, finally, five great puzzle games for the system:
Blast Corps
Dr. Mario 64
New Tetris
Tetrisphere
Wetrix

And now, back to finishing Majora's Mask...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Perspectives on television economics #sixseasonsandamovie

It's official: the past week has been a roller coaster for we Community fans (Fans, by the way, who do not have a great nickname like "browncoats"; the best I've heard is "greencoats", and that's just derivative. We need a nickname, people! C'mon, twitterverse and blogosphere: make it happen! But I digress.) A fourth season is on - but it will be only thirteen episodes long. It's no longer up against The Big Bang Theory on Thursday nights - it's being buried on Friday nights. It will still be good, right? - but now Dan Harmon is fired and will not be part of the show. So, what does the internet have to say about all of these developments? Well, in case you missed them, here are some helpful links.
Harmon's response is on his Tumblr account here, and you can find reactions about the business side of the decision here, how this decision demonstrates the nature of the relationship between showrunners here, how this blunderous situation is emblematic of NBC here, and a perspective from an experienced showrunner here. (Warning: some language is NSFW in the links.) So what do I think about all of this? Well, I think that it is important to look at the business side of things, the creative existence of Community, as well as personal reflection as a fan, so here goes.
First off, the business side, which includes Sony, NBC, and syndication. Sony wants syndication, but not at the costs associated with having Harmon as creator, so they decided to remove him and bring in someone cheaper. NBC likely renewed the show because of some backroom promise from Sony or kickback of syndication money, but they have no creative or business obligation to help Community succeed beyond the most minimal expectations, which are to air enough episodes to make it to syndication, so they decide to bury it on Friday nights and to pair it with the much-reviled Whitney, which perhaps the most offensive idea to Community fans. This is a win-win for both NBC and Sony, with neither entity having to put much effort into creating or promoting the show, and only minimal effort required from either party to achieve much greater financial gains. In fact, there is only an upside for either company if the newly retooled Community establishes any viability as a commercial enterprise. The possible downside is that Community might lose its already commercially-insignificant fan base and start an internet riot. So say what you want about Sony and NBC destroying Community; they don't care, and the market share is not significant enough to make them care. A lot of the other commentary about the business end of the decision has focused on Community being renewed so that it has enough episodes for syndication. Now, I don't understand this really well, but I know that the magic number used to be a hundred episodes, and now it's somewhere in the eighties (88 is the new magic number). The upcoming thirteen episode season will bring the run up to 84 episodes, which might be just enough to make syndication. The main question I have is why that magic number is treated as immutable when it has already shifted in recent history. It's still a weird way to work a business, as it seems like demand is arbitrarily decided rather than allowed to be subject to the markets. Then again, if it were up to the markets, we might not have had more than one season of the wacky crew at Greendale.
In regard to the "creative" part of the conversation, Community occupies an interesting - though certainly not unique - part of the spectrum as, almost from its inception, it has been a "bubble show": a program with low ratings, critical acclaim, and a devoted fan base. It's hard to be a fan of a "bubble show" because of the constant uncertainty accompanied with its run, as well as the emotional roller coaster that can happen because of the way networks work. I endured bubble show syndrome in Futurama's original run, and I would have endured similar trauma had I been a fan of either Firefly or Arrested Development when they were airing originally. I have avoided Fringe for this very reason, just as I often avoid programs in their debut seasons until their fate is secure. Sometimes, though, even this strategy does not work: I remember not watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip until it had been renewed for a full season, only to have it mercilessly cancelled after its final episodes were burned off in June. More recently, I went through bubble show syndrome as a fan of Chuck, which barely escaped cancellation after each season and ended with a 13-episode final season that was aired on Friday nights from October to January to reach the magic syndication number (it ended with 91). Its very persistence has put a chip on the collective shoulder of all fans of the show and created an antagonistic mentality against anyone who would devalue Community's creative genius, which often has begun and ended with a discussion of Dan Harmon as a "showrunner" and an "auteur" struggling within the network TV system. Names like Louis C.K., Matthew Weiner, David Milch, and Aaron Sorkin have all been invoked as examples of showrunners who have had significant success, primarily on cable (Sorkin's newest effort, The Newsroom, starts on HBO in a month). What many of the commentators have not mentioned is that each of those showrunners experienced failure before their primary successes, even on cable networks: Lucky Louie flopped on HBO; Weiner's Mad Men was rejected by HBO and was considered a risk by AMC, who had nothing to lose in trying to enter the cable TV market; Milch has at least two or three flops for each success, and Sorkin's Sports Night was cancelled before he started The West Wing, from which he was removed after the fourth season. Each of these showrunners had struggles as well as successes, and they were all given significant leeway by their employers before being restrained or released. But the key is that, for each of these individuals, there was someone willing to take a risk on them again. Some risks do not work out (see Mitch Hurwitz' failed sitcom Running Wilde, an awkward semi-companion piece to Arrested Development), but at least someone would take a risk on creative people. Bryan Fuller keeps making shows that a few people love passionately because someone takes the risk on him and his crazy ideas and thinks they might be able to make something esoteric become commercially viable. Dan Harmon will be back - apparently as soon as this fall on Adult Swim - and he will keep finding ways to be creative. That's the way the system works.
And finally, the personal, reflective element of this discussion, from an impassioned fan of the show from the pilot, with all of the considerations of business and creativity and networks and syndication and showrunners aside: I'm disappointed that Community as it truly should be is done, and that it will not reach the fullness of what it should have been. I do not see any way in which Season 4 can be anything considered other than apocryphal; even if there is some success in how they retool the show, it will not be the same, and it will not fulfill Harmon's original vision of seeing the Greendale 7 through college. There will always be that "what if" in the back of my mind, and that can never be taken away from me. I dearly love Community - I did recently rate it my second favourite sitcom ever, just behind Arrested Development - and nothing will change that. It continues to bring me joy in a way that few other shows ever have, and I will always treasure these 71 episodes, regardless of what happens from now on. Thank you, NBC and Sony, for renewing Community thrice more than it probably should have been. Thank you, Dan Harmon, along with all of your crazy compadres in creativity, for creating three seasons of one of my favourite shows ever. And thank you to all of my fellow Human Beings, with whom I can both reminisce and commiserate whenever we consider what was and what could have been. Cool. Cool cool cool.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

It has been a weirder-than-usual playoffs this year, so I don't know how much I can trust any of these picks, but I've got to try. I fared slightly better in Round 2, running a 2-2 record, meaning that my overall prediction rate is 5-7 so far this year. But considering the tightness of this year's playoffs, I'm feeling surprisingly okay with my lack of success. Here are my thoughts on Round 2.

Eastern Conference:
(1) New York vs. (7) Washington - Right team, wrong number of games. Washington did everything they could, but they were outmatched in the end. There's not much more to be asked for from Holtby, a rookie goalie who played fourteen games, all but one of which (Game 1 vs. the Rangers) were decided by one goal.

(5) Philadelphia vs. (6) New Jersey - Wrong team, wrong number of games. Maybe Philadelphia spent all of their energy in winning the Round 1 battle against the Penguins. Maybe the Devils just jelled in Round 1 and hit the "let's win one for Marty" button at the right time. Maybe Bryzgalov isn't the elite goalie the Flyers assumed he could be. Or maybe the Devils really are that good. Whatever the case, the Devils dominated the series, and they earned their series win.

Western Conference:
(2) Blues vs. (8) Kings - Right team, wrong number of games. The Kings may have saved Alain Vignault's job with their evisceration of the Blues in Round 2, but they also proved that they are the contender everyone predicted they would be in the fall. The Blues got some reps in, and they'll be meaner and hungrier next year, but the Kings are on a mission now.

(3) Phoenix vs. (4) Nashville - Wrong team, wrong number of games. I don't know what happened to the Predators (although much has been made of the Radulov incident and subsequent benching), but whatever it was will need to be sorted out quickly. I think Barry Trotz will still be coaching next year, and I think that Suter will likely re-sign, but they know that they lost this opportunity. With that said, there were three one-goal wins by the Coyotes, so it was close. That's not to take anything away from the Coyotes, who are playing excellent hockey right now, but it seems more like the Predators lost than the Coyotes won.

And now for my picks for the Conference Finals:

Eastern Conference:
(1) New York vs. (6) New Jersey - This is a strange series. The seeding makes it seem like a mismatch, but the Rangers and Devils were only seven points apart in the regular season. New York won only 4 games in shoot-outs, however, whereas New Jersey won twelve games in shoot-outs. The Rangers are one of the youngest teams in the league with a still relatively young goalie who has never made it this far in the playoffs; the Devils are one of the oldest teams in the league, including a cagey veteran goalie who was in goal the last time these two teams met in the Conference Finals in 1994. (Let that sink in for a minute. That's eighteen years ago.) I doubt it will be possible that this series will be as memorable as that one (Messier's famous decree, Matteau's goal), but it should still be an entertaining series. Neither team has had anywhere near this level of success since the lockout season, so it's really an open series for anyone to win. With that said, I picked the Rangers to go the Finals at the beginning of the playoffs, so I'm sticking with them to win; I'll pick New York in six games.

(3) Phoenix vs. (8) Los Angeles - This is another series that seems like a mismatch according to seeding, but these two teams could not be closer. There were only two points separating them in the standings, and they had almost identical records. The main difference was that Phoenix won two more games in overtime than LA; their goal differential, home and away records, and shoot-out records were almost identical. The Coyotes overachieved and the Kings underachieved, but both teams are coming away from a second round match-up in which they dominated the other team. It's very difficult to say which team is better in this series, since they even play very similar styles. I think the Kings' losing in the first round in recent years has given them some motivation, but the Coyotes also have the "nobody believed in us" card to play. I think, in the end, it will come down to the fact that LA has several players who have made deep runs in the playoffs who still have something to prove (Penner, Richards, Carter), the best defenseman in the series (Doughty), and that they have played fewer overtime and close games than the Coyotes have in the first two rounds: two one-goal games (including one OT game) out of nine total for the Kings against eight one-goal games (six in OT) out of eleven games for the Coyotes. It's going to be a hard-fought series for both teams, but I think the Kings will come out with the win in six games. Then again, picking against the Coyotes hasn't worked out so well for me so far in these playoffs.

That would make the Finals the perfect match-up for the American market. New York vs. Los Angeles: The two biggest TV markets; two very young teams with dynamic players and coaches;; two teams that have not had success in well over a decade; two teams that were successful in arguably the league's time of highest interest in the US. (1992-1994 - remember the stories about the NHL supplanting the NBA at the time?) Of the two, I'd still pick the Rangers, but it would be close - just like the rest of these playoffs have been.

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