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Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - Reviewing Metacritic's Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 2:10 AM EST

Well, Riffers, this will be my last Top Ten for a few weeks as I'm leaving for a European Tour this coming weekend; yes, that's right, Europeans will apparently part with their hard-earned euros (and zloty and koruny!) to watch me play CDs. Zut alors. So for this Top Ten, I figured I'd start the long, tortuous process of winnowing down a year-end "Best Albums" list by taking a look at the Metacritic Top Ten Best-Reviewed Albums of the Year.

Metacritic is a site that tallies up reviews from around the world of cultural criticism with a somewhat fallible mathematical formula, assigning points from 1 to 100 based on the grade given in the review. They've been adding up the points for the year so far, and their list is interesting both for its errors and its accuracy (for instance, hip-hop is noticeably absent from the top ten). Here's their list with my thoughts and where each album might end up on my personal year-end list.

Robert Wyatt10. Robert Wyatt – Comicopera
The 62-year-old former drummer for Soft Machine famously lost the use of his legs in an accident in 1973, and found his voice as a solo artist in the '90s. Comicopera is airy and jazzy, and Wyatt sounds delicate and emotional, almost like the reincarnation of Nick Drake. The album's themes revolve around protest; protest against war, against civilization in general. It's often quite beautiful and affecting, but also a bit scattered.
PB sez way lower

Battles9. Battles – Mirrored
Prog rock is back, and it's got techno in it! The New York combo sound distinctly British here in their ability to combine rock intensity with electronic experimentalism, and the album was appropriately released on Warp Records, home to Aphex Twin. But despite all that, it's immensely listenable, with lead single "Battles" taking on a kind of Gary Glitter-style swagger and ending up in Diplo DJ sets mashed up with M.I.A.
PB sez same

Panda Bear8. Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Good vibrations indeed, this reverb-laden tribute to the major-chord psychedelic pop of Brian Wilson has something in common with the Magnetic Fields: it achieves its traditional-sounding warmth via decidedly non-traditional methods. This is basically the solo project of Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, yet the sound is full and rich with harmonies.
PB sez kinda lower

LCD7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
A triumphant and grief-stricken album of plain-spoken dance music, Silver so perfectly defines its own place that it's hard to imagine how we lived in its absence. Band leader James Murphy digs in the crates of classic disco, Talking Heads, and New Order, and created an album that holds together as such, despite the standout brilliance of many of its singles. The unlikely centerpiece, "Someone Great," has entered the pantheon of melancholy electro classics like "Don't You Want Me," with its mechanical blips coalescing into a majestic tribute to a lost friend.
PB sez way higher

Les Savy Fav6. Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends
The indie-punk band has built a reputation as a blistering live act, and this album captures an intensity that's infectious. The Fav were doing angular guitar rock before Bloc Party knew how to walk, and Friends has moments of "this is how it's done" greatness. "What Would Wolves Do" is the highlight, a ticking, melancholy track with soaring guitar lines reminiscent of early U2, but they also wander a bit into muddy ballads.
PB sez way lower

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Romney and Guiliani, Bickering About Lawnmowers? Sorta.

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:47 AM EST

sancturary.bmp So, at least the Democrats aren't the only ones turning on one another down the home-stretch to primary season. This week Mitt Romney sent a letter to Iowa Republicans slamming GOP frontrunner Guiliani on immigration. Specifically he cites "sanctuary cities" that explicitly avoid crackdowns on illegal immigrants, calling out San Francisco and New York in particular.

Sanctuary cities are essentially areas where law enforcement basically follow a don't ask, don't tell approach to immigration that may not be legal. What I want Romney to explain is what he thinks the dozen-plus major cities with such policies would do if they cracked down on laborers in the country illegally? The concept, sanctuary cities, is right up there with Bush's guest worker program; find as many ways to keep the cheap labor for industry, without having to grant secure status or acknowledge the strain the arrangement has on the workers, or in this case, on law enforcement.

In response, Guiliani has predictably chosen offense as the best defense, charging that, as governor of Massachusetts, Romney had "a record that included allowing the number of illegal immigrants to skyrocket while he was in charge, and even hiring some of them to work on his lawn while he was governor."

Ah, Mitt, if only the grass was greener.

iTunes For Magazines?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 1:32 AM EST

Time Inc. is at work on Maghound, which is akin to an online newstand where readers will pay a monthly fee—$4.95 for three magazines, $7.95 for five or seven for $9.95—and can then mix and match magazines of their choosing (the magazines they offer, that is, I don't see Mother Jones pop up on the cover crawl).

Brian Wolfe, president of Time Consumer Marketing, calls Maghound, set to officially launch next year, the answer to Amazon for books, Netflix for movies, and iTunes for music. "The magazine industry," he recently told AdAge (subscription), "has done nothing essentially to make the consumer experience better." The online service, though, only goes so far. No digital, paperless versions. But one user improvement that will surely attract subscribers, those renewal notices won't pile up. But no promises on what bait-to-switch will fill your Inbox.

Joe Biden's Amazing Numerical Recall

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 12:27 AM EST

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Following Joe Biden on the campaign trail earlier today, I heard him address the issues of education and high-speed internet access at the Iowa Valley Continuing Education Conference Center in Marshalltown, Iowa. Biden drifted off and on prepared remarks, shifting from his written notes to paragraphs of memorized stump speech to long, off-the-cuff monologues. The result was a speech that fluctuated pretty wildly in volume and energy. In all, though, Biden had an excellent command of the facts and was able to draw on years of experience in the senate (the man was elected at 29 and is now 65) to illustrate his points. I'm going to write more about him, likely tomorrow, but for now, I want to point out something fun.

Joe Biden really loves facts and figures. I was stunned at the quantity of numbers he could pack into a paragraph. Here are two examples. Remember, these are verbatim quotes.

Websites Blocked By the Denver International Airport Free Wireless Service

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 11:39 PM EST

mojo-photo-dia.jpgI returned from a quick trip to Nebraska today via DIA, and during my layover, logged onto their free wireless service. When I tried to check a few web sites, I got the following messages:

Boing Boing
"Your request to URL http://boingboing.net/ has been blocked by the URL Filter Database. The URL is listed under categories (Incidental Nudity, Blogs / Wiki), which are not allowed by your administrator at this time. The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral.

Towleroad
"Your request to URL "http://www.towleroad.com/" has been blocked by the URL Filter Database. The URL is listed under categories (Provocative Attire, Politics / Opinion), which are not allowed by your administrator at this time. The following reputation level was assigned to it: Neutral."

The Drudge Report, however, came up just fine. Just letting you know.

John Edwards and the Endless Education Agenda

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 11:10 PM EST

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I'm hopping from campaign to campaign in Iowa this week. Yesterday, I followed John Edwards as he made three stops. I discuss the first two in my article for the website published earlier today. I'll add a quick note about the third here.

The third event was a forum on education at the University of Northern Iowa. Edwards talked about a number of things: paying teachers more, finding ways to attract stellar college students to the profession, the silliness of No Child Left Behind's "cheap" standardized tests, fixing the student loan system, and on and on.

What he didn't mention, though, is his nearly endless list of initiatives, programs, and plans.

There's the national "Great Promise" partnership (quality education for every four-year-old in the country); the national "Smart Start" program (expanded health services for children under five); and the "Great Schools" initiative ("build or expand 1,000 successful schools"). The last shouldn't be confused with Edwards' "Second Chance" schools (havens for high school dropouts). And let's not forget the "School Success Fund," which Edwards may or may not have been referencing when he spoke of his plan for "educational swat teams."

He did mention his National Teacher University ("a West Point for teachers") by name, and he mentioned his College Opportunity Agenda (aka the national "College for Everyone" initiative), without mentioning its formal title(s). So credit where it's due.

The man has a million ideas on education, many I didn't list here because they don't have kitschy names. I'm making fun of Jedwards because of his program-for-everything approach that so neatly fits into the stereotype of American liberals. But it's better than the Republicans minimalist approach. Rudy Giuliani is instructive. The education platform on his website is 67 words and boils down, more or less, to the phrase "strong supporter of school choice."

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Prince Declares Images of Prince Off-Limits

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 10:51 PM EST

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Lawyers for Prince have ordered several of the superstar's biggest fan sites to remove any image that bears his likeness prompting fans to form a group to fight the demands. Three websites: housequake.com, princefams.com and prince.org have come together to form 'Prince Fans United' in response to the situation, which even sees demands to remove images of fans own tattoos. - NME

Bruce Springsteen has instructed his legal team to track down all web sites which feature his ass and have them eliminated, the Riff has learned. The New Jersey star's rear, clad in worn denim, bulged proudly on the cover of the 1984 album Born in the U.S.A., and lawyers believe any internet representation of the cheeks' signature curves could constitute an income loss, as fans ogle the booty for free instead of purchasing the album. The Boss has enlisted a squadron of buttock investigators to identify his own personal posterior amongst what experts say must be "as many as 30" other backsides pictured on the internet. No bloggers were available for a rebuttal.

Chicago rappers Cool Kids have demanded all pictures of cool kids be removed from all websites, despite the fact that the members of the band themselves are not kids, and only cool in a kind of ironic sense. "We saw some pictures of like a couple actual cool kids on the news, and we had the feeling maybe the news guys were making fun of us, since that's the name of our band," said Cool Kid Mikey Rocks, wearing a fluorescent pink baseball cap. When asked if they were trying to be funny or ironic or artsy with their request, he replied, "I don't even know any more," while making air quotes with his fingers.

In a related story, obscure 80s combo The The have demanded all instances of the article which they doubled to form the name of their band be excised from the internet, starting at the end of the sentence you are reading on the Riff right now. "There's tons of other determiners around for people to use that don't interfere with our clients' ability to control their own image," said a spokesperson, "like 'a,' or even 'an,' and in many circumstances, 'da.'" Da spokesperson then ran out of da room, so nobody could take his picture.

Money Bomb! Ron Paul Raises Almost $3 Million in a Single Day

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 10:48 PM EST

It's called a money bomb, and it's the unique province of Ron Paul supporters. This is getting to be one of the most bizarre phenomenons American politics has seen in decades.

Update: An email from the Paul campaign makes it clear that they're still going.

Is it possible to comprehend what we've done today? Earth-shattering, jaw-dropping... No matter which way you phrase it, Ron Paul is for real.
Over $3,800,000 raised.
More than 35,000 total donations.
1 message - and 1 candidate - unlike any other.
Can we keep our momentum going? The most successful fundraising day ever is John Kerry's $5.7 million. And that was on the day he accepted the Democratic nomination.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Obey Won't Say Whether They'll Fund Bunker Busters For Iran

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 6:24 PM EST

The Bush administration recently sent Congress a request for $196 billion in "emergency" funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week ABC reported that it includes one line asking for $88 million to upgrade stealth bombers to carry the 30,000-pound "massive ordnance penetrator":

So where would the military use a stealth bomber armed with a 30,000-pound bomb like this? Defense analysts say the most likely target for this bomb would be Iran's flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, which is both heavily fortified and deeply buried.
"You'd use it on Natanz," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org. "And you'd use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly."

Today David Obey (D-WI), the Democratic Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, appeared at the National Press Club. You can see the footage via C-Span.

At 42:10, Obey is asked whether he plans to fund the bunker busters. He speaks for over three minutes, beginning by saying "Our Iran policy has been spectacularly stupid for 50 years," references the 1953 CIA coup, and asks, "Wouldn't we have been better off if we left Mossadegh in place?" Yet he never answers the question.

When Obey finally winds down, at 45:30, the moderator asks again: "Will you fund the bunker busters?" Obey replies:

Musharraf's Pathetic Attempt to Cling to Power, Independent Media Suffers

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 6:13 PM EST

This Saturday General Pervez Musharraf decided it was time to just sock it to anyone who stood in his way of holding onto power. He imposed an "emergency rule"—effectively martial law—suspending the Constitution and sacking the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after the judges refused to abide by the order and declared it illegal. Over 600 lawyers, activists, and opponents were detained. As police assaulted lawyers and other protesters with tear gas and batons, thousands were arrested, including 1,200 lawyers in the second largest Pakistani city, Lahore. On Sunday, over 70 activists and 14 journalists were arrested at a meeting held by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in order to discuss the current state. HRCP Chairwoman Asma Jehangir was placed under house arrest.

Musharraf claims that this was a move to save Pakistan from extremism, but some point out that he had been informed by an aide that the Supreme Court might declare his October 6 "re-election" illegal. Furthermore, the fact that the parliamentary elections, scheduled for January, have also been put off can be seen as a maneuver to stall elections. And the proclamation the general issued is a "charge sheet" against the judicial branch as he accuses the judiciary of "working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature" and argues that its "constant" and "increasing interference" with the executive branch is undermining the "war on terrorism." His use of "terrorism" as reason for imposing martial law is, to put it bluntly, bullshit.

Along with the judiciary, the media bears the brunt in this recent clampdown for its critical coverage. For the third day in a row, independent news channels have been blacked out in Pakistan, as well as access to several websites. Aaj TV had its offices raided, similar to how GEO TV earned a visit from the police in a previous crackdown of the Pakistani media in June. A new press ordinance has also been issued to further silence the media. The strictures prohibit any material which "ridicules" or "brings disrepute to the Head of the State" and armed forces and proves to be a threat to the "ideology of Pakistan."

—Neha Inamdar