Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nate Kiper

I have a soft spot in my heart for Mel Kiper. I know "true" NFL fans find him irritating but I disagree. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of each year's draft class and is often spot-on in his analysis.

Even if he's wrong sometimes, fans shouldn't hold that against him since professional NFL GMs are often wrong too. Look at the Titans, their recent top-10 draft choices include Vince Young and Pacman Jones. I believe Mel Kiper could have made better selections than that.

While I've never fashioned myself a draftnik like Kiper ot Todd McShay, I do enjoy the NFL DRaft almost as much as any other sporting event. If time allows, I'll do a post about how I see the draft shaking out for the Packers. Last year's draft class might go down as one of the best in team history, especially if you throw in undrafted rookie free agents Sam Shields and Frank Zombo. Nearly every rookie on the roster contributed significantly.

As for this year's draft class, there doesn't seem to be a clear No. 1 player, but if I was making the top selection I'd go with A.J. Green. I know wide receivers aren't typically the centerpiece of a team and Green comes with some baggage.

But he's also unstoppable. And I think he's hungry to be successful (i.e. rich). I view him in the Randy Moss/Calvin Johnson/Michael Irvin mold of big, talented receivers and I think he's a surefire Pro Bowl player in the NFL.

Most experts have Green lower in the top-10, but they also over-value quarterbacks Cam Newton (who I view as a Vince Young replica) and Blaine Gabbert (whose so-so college numbers are alarming).

Other players I really think will make good pros are defensive end Cameron Jordan from Cal and wide receiver Torrey Smith from Maryland. I've seen Jordan mentioned as a possible inside defensive tackle, 4-3 defensive end, 3-4 defensive end or even 3-4 outside linebacker. He's versatile, athletic and was very productive in college. He should go in the top 5 or 10 but many mocks have him slotted lower than that.

Smith is a burner with a great, unselfish attitude who played in an offense without a quarterback capable of getting him the ball. He's got the size and strength to play in the NFL and the speed to overcompensate for the learning curve rookies typically experience at receiver.

In the later rounds, I really like receiver Greg Salas from Hawaii. He seems like a typical Packer selection who could fall to Green Bay in Rounds 2 or 3.

We'll see how this pans out in a week, during a 3-day festival of football that has become the NFL Draft. Coming off the Packers' Super Bowl win and caught in the middle of the lockout nonsense, watching Kiper and company will be a welcomed reprieve.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Some girl sold her ex-boyfriend's My Bloody Valentine CD

Of all the many tragedies produced by the digital music age, the most personally affecting is the gradual death of the used CD shop. For me, the memories and the music are inseparable. My teenage years are the same as Siamese Dream at the beginning and In the Aeroplane over the Sea at the end.

I'm alone this weekend because my wife and son are driving with my mother-in-law across the continent to California. To fill the void yesterday, I retreated to a lovely place aptly named the Great Escape, which pawns delicately used art of profound importance to nerds like me. Comic books, DVDs, video games and of course CDs.

I struck gold during yesterday's visit. The new album from Those Darlins, a Nashville quasi-country, garage rock, pop band, was inexplicably in the used wrack even though it only came out like two weeks ago. It's a sidestep for one of Nashville's great indie rock bands, but I still like Screws Get Loose a great deal.

I also found a copy of the seminal album Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. I never owned this album even though I've listened to it, and had it played for me, many times. I gobbled up a copy and I've been consuming it loudly for the last day and a half.

One of my hobbies-within-a-hobby is trying to come up with a backstory for why a certain CD has been pawned away. There's no reason to romanticize a backstory for why someone would sell their Third Eye Blind album. That music goes in one ear, out the other, leaving behind nothing but embarrassment and regret. But My Bloody Valentine?

There are only two explanations for why a copy of Loveless was up for re-sale at Great Escape. The CD itself was full of scuffs and knicks. Its plastic case had the wear and tear of a hockey puck, but blared through my car speakers, it sounded as scruffy, angry, creepy and brilliant as ever. That means this album was listened to a lot (thus the wear and tear) and by someone who loved the music (thus the fact the CD was in good enough condition that it still played just fine).

Either some indie rock nerd about my age was robbed and the fiend got away with re-selling it at Great Escape OR a young woman about my age broke up with a guy like that, ended up with some of CDs and, criminally, sold it away. Maybe she had one of her guy friends, who probably still listens to Third Eye Blind, sell it for her.

"Just get rid of it," she said. "I hated his weird music."

Home burglary or stone-cold ex, either way, I am the beneficiary. Thank God for stores like Great Escape keeping music alive.

My Bloody Valentine's Only Shallow

Those Darlins Be Your Bro

Saturday, April 9, 2011

From the Queue: I'll Cry Tomorrow and Due Date

For the first time in recent memory, a classic film recommended by Ali fell short. The movie was I'll Cry Tomorrow, which is the story of a Hollywood actress's battle with alcohol, depression and stardom after her fiance dies unexpectedly. Frankly the movie did not capture my attention. There are some classic films where I don't even notice how drastically different the style of acting was decades ago. But this is not one of them.
Two stars

I had high hopes for Due Date, since I revere Planes, Trains and Automobiles and since Zack Galiafinakis is hilarious. This movie substituted the cleverness of its mismatched roadtrip predecessor for crude, simplistic jokes. There are still funny scenes, since ZG and Robert Downey Jr. are funny guys. But this film makes the Hangover, hell even Old School, look like high art. I couldn't help laughing outloud, and then I couldn't help feeling guilty when I did. Eventually the laughs stopped and the film ran its course.
Two stars.

Baseball predictions

This is shaping up to be one of the great sports fan years of my life. The Packers have already improbably won the Super Bowl. The Bulls have the No. 1 seed and seem poised for a deep playoff run. And then there's the Cubs.

It only took watching a few innings of the opening series against the Pirates (?!) to see this would, again, not be the Cubs year. One week into the season the Cubs are .500, and if they can keep going at that rate Mike Quade deserves manager of the year consideration.

At first glance, the Cubs' formula success could be the same as last year's Giants, who won the World Series. If their veteran position players (Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Pena, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez) lived up to their considerable contracts and if their young pitchers (Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, Marcus Mateo, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija) began living up to their potential, maybe this could be a contending team.

But it seems painfully obvious the veterans wouldn't form a dangerous lineup even if they earned their salaries. And it is a statistical impossibility that Soriano will live up to his ridiculous contract.

One week into the season, Cashner and Wells are already on the disabled list. The back of the bullpen, led by Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol, has already looked surprisingly shaky even though it was supposed to be the team's certain strength.

The Bulls and Packers may be perennial contenders, but baseball season won't turn around for Cubs fans like me for quite some time.

My 2011 predictions:

National League
1. Phillies
2. Braves
3. Nationals
4. Mets
5. Marlins

1. Reds
2. Brewers
3. Cardinals
4. Cubs
5. Pirates
6. Astros

1. Rockies
2. Giants
3. Dodgers
4. Diamondbacks
5. Padres
Wild card: Braves

American League
1. Yankees
2. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
4. Orioles
5. Rays

1. White Sox
2. Twins
3. Indians
4. Tigers
5. Royals

1. Rangers
2. Angels
3. A's
4. Mariners
Wild card: Red Sox

World Series: Yankees over Phillies

Everyone wants to doubt the Phillies, but that pitching staff could lose two guys from its rotation and still carry them through the playoffs. The Reds may be the Phils' top competition. I see the Rockies emerging from a tough NL West.

The Yankees win a muddy American League because of Sabathia and a potent offense. The Rangers don't have enough pitching to carry them through a regular season and the playoffs. The White Sox look tough.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Strokes' Angles

Sometimes an album, like an old friendship, is valuable because of what it helps you remember.

That's how I've come to feel about The Strokes' fourth studio album, Angles. Critics have given Angles decidedly mixed reviews, and if this album was The Strokes' first offering I could understand that.

But The Strokes shouldn't be graded on the same curve as blogger-come-lately acts like Weeknd or Washed Out. The Strokes have earned their place in rock 'n roll history and this album, despite its very real faults, is a reminder of their greatness.

I got acquainted with this album over the same time that I got re-acquainted with some of my favorite old friends. Last weekend we spent a Saturday evening in Indianapolis acting like anything but a buncha 30-somethings with grown-up jobs, relationships and kids. We played drinking games, we told old stories from high school and college, we watched a lot of basketball and we quoted lines from Rounders until the early morning hours. The weekend in itself was a simple, fun guys' weekend, but it was also a refresher in how important it is to stay in touch with the friends from your childhood.

I think it's fitting that The Strokes soundtracked this weekend for me, because the band has soundtracked other moments in my life too. When I was 20 and had to get a job delivering pizza to pay my bills, the band's debut album, Is This It, blared from my 1988 Chevy Corsica while I darted around Bloomington.

When I moved to Nashville, one of my roommates, an aspiring musician from Rochester, N.Y. was a huge fan of the band. We'd play their music while we talked about girls and enjoyed Nashville together. We even watched the band play an unforgettable set in 2004 down on the riverfront in which frontman Julian Casablancas acted like an imbecile, much to our delight.

Having said all that, Angles has its unmistakable flaws. At times Casablancas' vocals are utterly incoherent. If you can understand what he's singing about without the liner notes, then you should be deciphering code for Homeland Security. The album's fourth track, You're So Right, is truly irritating, and after only a few listens I no longer can tolerate the song. The mood of the album jumps around a bit, as critics have pointed out, and sometimes it's hard to separate The Strokes from their obvious influences.

Having said all that, the album delivers some "classic" Strokes songs like Under the Cover of Darkness and Taken for a Fool. Those songs would be right at home on Is This It or Room On Fire, the band's landmark albums that helped reshape indie rock.

This album isn't a classic on its own, but it's a reminder of where the band, and if you love them like I do, where you've been. A garbled album from The Strokes is still better listening than anything Weeknd could ever offer up. Sometimes an album from a great band is like a childhood friendship. It could fade some in time, but its value is intrinsic.