Sunday, October 20, 2019

Liz Phair’s 1990s’ Horror Stories don't start out horr-ible enough

Liz Phair is definitely one of my favorite 10 things about 1990s' rock. And that’s saying a lot, since those were the formative years when I was ages 20 to 30. She produced at least three of the decade’s great albums before falling off a cliff into Top 40 trash pop.

So Horror Stories is definitely a book I looked forward to for understanding how some of that magic emanated out of Chicago’s Wicker Park, where I spent a small amount of time myself in that long-ago decade.

Phair starts off defining that her book is not so much her personal story as it is a series of little horror stories that make up and can define a life, which sounds promising because that’s a good way of describing what her best songs are like.

One such story begins the book. It’s a memory she has from college when lots of girls discover another girl, passed out so drunkenly in a bathroom that she has soiled herself and the floor. Nobody does anything about the poor girl and that flash of lacking empathy still haunts Phair. It’s really not much of a story. We don’t find out if the girl died or what ever happened to her or even who she is.

The next story starts very slowly and builds to make a case for Phair’s maternal senses. She wishes she would have adopted a lonely dog on Mulholland Drive in L.A. and she wishes she would have saved a little boy being beaten by his rotten father on a beach while helplessly watching from a far-off cliff above. The moment of the beating is when the story takes on poignancy.

These sorts of stories seem a little like a cop out. Anybody who’s a halfway decent writer could jam out several little vignettes or memories of their past just like these ones. It’s kind of what a life, any life, really is. The difference that makes the book worth reading is that they are Phair’s stories. It further helps that she is an artist who has always been wrapped in quite a bit of mystery, leaving her fans to cobble together her story based solely on her lyrics, which are mostly relatively cryptic.

The opening stories are not as exciting as I had hoped. I’ve gone from wanting to buy the book to putting it on hold in my digital library queue and hoping I get more into it when it arrives. For now, there’s still always those great first three albums (Exile in Guyville, Whipsmart, and Whitechocolatespaceegg).

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Once Upon a Time vaults towards the top of my list of Brad Pitt favorites

In looking back at all times I've mentioned Brad Pitt on this website, it's amazing how many great films he's almost been in. That said, after seeing two Pitt classics over the past several days - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Moneyball - it's amazing just how many classics in which he has accepted roles.

Hard to believe he's now been acting in movies for about 30 years and, with that output, there's a good chance I'm missing something here. But these are my favorite BP roles. In my top three, he is just about the coolest actor around (right up there beside George Clooney):

1. Fight Club
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
3. Ocean's Eleven
4. (Tie) 12 Years a Slave and True Romance (maybe both better than all these above it, but Pitt's roles are supporting ones)
5. Moneyball
6. Inglorious Basterds
7. Seven
8. The Departed
9. Interview With the Vampire
10. A River Runs Through It
11. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
12. Kalifornia
13. Ocean's Twelve
14. Burn After Reading
15. The Big Short
16. Killing Them Softly
17. Snatch
18. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
19. The Tree of Life (yuck)

Ones I still should see:
  • Legends of the Fall
  • World War Z
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Thelma & Louise
  • The Devil's Own
  • Babel
  • The Assassination of Jesse James
  • The Counselor
  • Fury

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Elton John's best 25 songs and Rocketman review

One thing that's tough to do when you have a full-time job and little kids is go to the movies.

With a week off between my last job and my next job, I was able to not only sneak in a movie yesterday, but also a great 12-mile roundtrip bike ride to and from the movie in Wheaton, Md.

I've always been an Elton John fan, so the new Rocketman seemed like a good way to spend two hours. While I wouldn't consider myself a mega fan (I've never seen him in concert, for instance), I do think he has at least 30 major classic songs, which puts anyone in Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame territory in my book.

Taron Egerton as Elton is a true superstar-making performance. One of the best moments of the movie is when the story of little-boy Reg suddenly blasts onto the screen as grown-up Elton/Taron. It's an electrifying moment when I knew we were in for a good ride. The actor sings all the songs, which he does indistinguishably from the real Elton. It is impossible to take your eyes off Egerton throughout, even through some occasionally bad writing and sometimes-exhausting musical sequences.

The story is mostly well told, with Elton telling the story of his life from a chair in an addicts' anonymous meeting. The awful parents, the child prodigy, the ups and downs with his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, the ups and downs of his romances, and his drug and alcohol extravagances. I would have liked to see a little more of his life with other celebrities and rock stars, but I guess the point is that Elton is pretty introverted for an extrovert.

I also would have liked to learn more about Elton. Some of the facts and chronologies had to unfortunately take a hit for the sake of Hollywood and mass-public whims. What about his British mansion where he's lived since 1975? I guess that mostly came after the bulk of the film's time period, although the movie made it seem as if he was sobered up in the 1980s when he resurfaced for big hits like "I'm Still Standing," when, in fact, he was reportedly a huge cocaine addict throughout the 80s.

The one thing I definitely learned was that he took his stage name "John" from John Lennon. I would have liked to learn more little anecdotes like that. It would have made the film just the little bit more of clever that it needs.

4 out of 5 stars

As a bonus, here are my 25 favorite Elton John songs. Oddly, these are all pretty much classics, but after this list, Elton's quality drops precipitously:

25: Blue Eyes (1982)
24: Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding (1973)
23: Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word (1976)
22: Madman Across the Water (1971)
21: Nikita (1985)
20: Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (1972)
19: Philadelphia Freedom (1975)
18: I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues (1983)
17: Honky Cat (1972)
16: Border Song (1970)
15: Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting (1973)
14: Tiny Dancer (1971)
13: Bennie and the Jets (1973)
12: Candle in the Wind (1973)
11: Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me (1974)
10: Levon (1971)
09: Don't Go Breaking My Heart w/ Kiki Dee (1976)
08: Someone Saved My Life Tonight (1975)
07: Your Song (1970)
06: Crocodile Rock (1973)
05: Daniel (1973)
04: Little Jeanie (1980) - even with its ridiculous line "I want you to be my acrobat," this is a favorite song from when I was 9 and 10 years old, owner of the 45 still
03: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
02: I'm Still Standing (1983)
01: Rocket Man (1972)

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Roger Corman is a punk rock movie all star

Roger Corman is a genius filmmaker.

Anyone interested in pop culture should check him out. I would sum up his ethos as somewhere between the Dead Milkmen song "Bitchin' Camaro" and The Warriors (one of the 1970s' best and most unheralded movies, all about what gang warfare was like before guns made it much less interesting).

A couple of films associated with Corman (if not directed by him) are about to leave Hulu, and I couldn't highly recommend a film any more than Suburbia. It's the tale of a girl who witnesses a baby she's caring for mauled by a wild dog and a couple of boys who run away from their violently alcoholic mom. They end up in an abandoned tract home in L.A. with a bunch of mosh-pitting punks (including a very young Flea, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist) who have suffered similar abuse at the hands of the families they have left.

It is an absolute stone-cold classic that I can't believe I hadn't seen.

Of lesser importance and quality is Rock n' Roll High School, the legendary entrance (and exit?) into film of The Ramones. It's far less of a compelling story than Suburbia, but it is indeed a ton of fun. The principal and the lead student rocker played by P.J. Soles are particularly captivating. Also, how did I never see that before!?

Suburbia - 5 out of 5 stars
Rock n Roll High School - 3.5 out of 5 stars

The next batch of Corman films I need to see include:

  • The Haunted Palace
  • The Pit and the Pendulum
  • House of Usher (can't wait to see how he handles the inimitable Edgar Allen Poe in all these horror takes)
  • the Intruder
  • The Masque of the Red Death
  • The Raven
  • Death Race 200
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • The Trip
  • Piranha

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Authors fail to understand the public's love of presidential scandals

I'm trying to clear out some of my grad-school books. As part of this project, I figured it would be good to revisit and review, for one last time, some of the books I used extensively in my thesis on whether personal scandals helped or hurt voter turnout in presidential elections.

Peep Show: Media and Politics in an Age of Scandal by Larry Sabato, Mark Stencel, and Robert Lichter, reports of a time during the Clinton Administration when the line between public and private was blurring more than ever in media coverage of politics. They found that responsible media was fooling itself into not printing some scandals while seemingly arbitrarily covering other ones. They wonder if some mainstream reporters are simply lazy and bad investigators.

One striking passage early in the book makes a claim that my thesis found not to be true at all:
"The fidelity of elected officials and other personal matters are of little concern to most Americans, despite the attention such stories get in the news."
The authors do back this up by noting that 80 percent of those polled disapproved of coverage of Clinton's extramarital affairs. But Sabato and company failed to wonder if these people could have actually been lying. And what about all those everyday, water-cooler conversations about Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's "I didn't inhale," and the poor academic grades of Bush and Gore?

I largely disagree with the authors' findings in this book and contended in my thesis that Americans did indeed care about sex, drugs, and rock n' roll-type scandals and that they drive higher turnout in presidential elections.

People say Clinton's mistake was the lie, but they certainly discuss the sex a lot more than the lie. What I thought was good from this salacious turn by the media is that it shouldn't have ever been the media's job to offer a "zone of privacy" to public figures (as they had for many years) who have done scandalous things in the past; it's more the politician's job not to run for office in the first place if they've done those things.

The authors also claim the public will tune out personal scandals. But all these years since this 2000 book was published, it doesn't seem like that's holding true at all. People are chomping at the bit for the next scandal to sink their teeth into. Even with the seemingly daily scandals of the Trump Administration, the public still has great interest in reading all about it, and those scandals may drive massive turnout from both sides of the political aisle, potentially resulting in Trump winning reelection in 2020.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

My favorite rom-coms of all time (and some I unbelievably have yet to see)

I'm an admittedly big fan of romantic comedies, so when Entertainment Weekly recently had a special rom-com issue, I was a little shocked at some of the titles I've either neglected to see or forgotten whether I've seen over the years.

So here is both a ranking of my favorite rom-coms of all time and, to start it off, a list of titles I need to either watch or rewatch so I can accurately place them in the list in the future.

Rom-coms high on my list to watch:
Love, Simon (2018)
She's Gotta Have It (2017)
Maggie's Plan (2016)
Sleeping With Other People (2015)
Man Up (2015)
What If (2014)
Top Five (2014)
Don Jon (2013)
Your Sister's Sister (2012)
Ruby Sparks (2012)
The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
Italian for Beginners (2001)
Notting Hill (1999)
An Ideal Husband (1999)
My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
Picture Perfect (1997)
In & Out (1997)
Emma (1996)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Boomerang (1992)
Doc Hollywood (1991)
Pretty Woman (1990)
Coming to America (1988)
Mannequin (1987)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Moonstruck (1987)
The Sure Thing (1985)
The Apartment (1960)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Indiscreet (1958)
Love in the Afternoon (1957)
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Adam's Rib (1949)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
His Girl Friday (1940)
Ninotchka (1939)
Holiday (1938)
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The Awful Truth (1937)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
It Happened One Night (1934)
City Lights (1931)

My list:
84. Friends With Benefits (2011)
83. Along Came Polly (2004)
82. Serendipity (2001)
81. Benny & Joon (1993)
80. Waitress (2007)
79. Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
78. The Incredible Jessica James (2017)
77. Working Girl (1988)
76. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)
75. Valley Girl (1983)
74. Extract (2009)
73. Enough Said (2013)
72. All About Steve (2009)
71. LA Story (1991)
70. Obvious Child (2014)
69. Splash (1984)
68. Roxanne (1987)
67. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
66. As Good As It Gets (1997)
65. The Object of My Affection (1998)
64. Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
63. The American President (1995)
62. Amelie (2001)
61. Kissing Jessica Stein (2002)
60. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
59. You've Got Mail (1998)
58. Clueless (1995)
57. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
56. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
55. Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011)
54. Punch Drunk Love (2002)
53. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
52. Miss Congeniality (2000)
51. Pretty in Pink (1986)
50. 500 Days of Summer (2009)
49. La La Land (2016)
48. She's the One (1996)
47. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
46. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
45. Dave (1993)
44. Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
43. Juno (2007)
42. Arthur (1981)
41. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
40. The Importance of Being Earnest (1955)
39. Chasing Amy (1997)
38. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
37. Broadcast News (1987)
36. 50 First Dates (2004)
35. About a Boy (2002)
34. Bull Durham (1988)
33. Keeping the Faith (2000)
32. Knocked Up (2007)
31. Bring It On (2000)
30. Groundhog Day (1993)
29. Jerry Maguire (1996)
28. The Graduate (1967)
27. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
26. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
25. Music and Lyrics (2007)
24. Sixteen Candles (1984)
23. There's Something About Mary (1998)
22. Adventureland (2009)
21. Mr. Jealousy (1997)
20. The Big Sick (2017)
19. Wedding Crashers (2005)
18. Bridesmaids (2011)
17. The Brothers McMullen (1995)
16. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
15. Love Actually (2003)
14. Manhattan (1979)
13. Lost in Translation (2003)
12. Rushmore (1998)
11. Cold Comfort Farm (1996)
10. Grease (1978)
09. Reality Bites (1993)
08. Singles (1992)
07. Say Anything ... (1989)
06. Play It Again, Sam (1972)
05. Office Space (1999)
04. Annie Hall (1977)
03. High Fidelity (2000)
02. The Wedding Singer (1998)
01. Better Off Dead (1985)

With John Cusack starring in three of my top seven, I think it's safe to say that he gets the reward for my favorite rom-com actor of all time. With probably Cary Grant, who has tons of movies on my list to still watch (I've mostly seen his wealth of Alfred Hitchcock output), not far behind in second place. Dianne Keaton has to be in first place among female actors.

What do you think I missed and what are your favorites?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

My quotes in the Washington Post about Metro failing to promote itself

The Washington Post's Kery Murakami decided to dig deeply into data about growth patterns of people moving into spaces within a half mile from Metro stations throughout the DC region.

He contacted me (representing Arlington's Mobility Lab) because our expertise is on how important initiatives other than infrastructure are to the transportation choices that people make. Sure, running safe, reliable trains on time is really important, but it straddles the line between infrastructure and the education aspect we focus on.

In places like DC where the transportation grid has been built out about as much as possible, the only way to go is to win people's admiration and loyalty to various ways of moving around. The good news is that it can often be effective (if done well, which it often isn't), and it's a heck of a lot less expensive than building new highways and train stations.

Anyway, this is a good article, with excellent reporting and (I think) some pretty great quotes from me! :-)
But even though that meant 38,000 more people were living near a station, ridership didn’t grow. According to Metro’s figures, it fell. Weekday boardings in the District dropped by 13 percent between May 2011 and May 2018 — or by an average of about 57,000 boardings daily — while all those people were moving in around stations.
That was “absolutely” a lost opportunity, said Paul Mackie, research director of Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County Commuter Services. “It doesn’t help that the SafeTrack repair program has led to a general decline in both service and loyalty to Metro,” he said. “But Metro needs to promote itself harder, especially in light of competition from other options like Uber, Lyft, carpooling, e-scooters, bikes and bikeshare, and the rise in teleworking.”
Mackie also said Metro hasn’t done enough to reach out to all the additional people moving in around stations. 
“There is a huge TransitScreen on the marquee at Gallery Place/Chinatown that lists when the next trains are leaving,” he noted. “Why aren’t those signs in every neighborhood and bar and restaurant and library and hotel promoting transit?"
I was also quoted in a separate Post article titled, Data shows areas near Metro stations remain havens for the rich.
“We’re seeing the rich get richer – in both wealth and quality of life – and low-income people having to keep fighting to stay afloat with everyday tasks – like getting to work or daycare,” said Paul Mackie, research director for Mobility Lab, an Arlington transportation research center funded by local and federal governments.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Rush gets dissected on AXS TV's excellent Classic Albums show

I usually claim I cut the cord on cable TV because all I need it for is sports. That's only kind of true. Sling TV is a replacement for cable because it has ESPN and a bunch of sports channels, but it also has AXS TV. The music channel has a bunch of great shows, but Classic Albums is really hitting the sweet spot on the VHS rockumentary vibe.

The Frank Zappa show, like all of them, takes you behind the scenes for the making of the music. It's great, and convinced me I need to finally dig deeper on my Zappa collection beyond "Big Leg Emma" and the few others that I keep going back to.

But the Rush episode is the latest I watched. The show covers the self-titled first release with John Rutsey on drums pre-Neil Peart, and runs through Fly By Night and Caress of Steel before getting to the meat of the show, a focus on 2112 and Moving Pictures.

2112 is no doubt the most classic of Rush's albums, especially because it doesn't have a lacking moment anywhere throughout, unlike every other Rush album. Further, the Canadians may be rock's greatest sci-fi band of all time. Peart's lyrics were almost always based off science fiction, not least 2112 and its Ayn Rand fixation.

I wanted to rank Rush's albums here, but the aforementioned imperfections of nearly every album matched with the unfailing moments of pure brilliance on just about every release make that difficult. I'll just venture:

Classic Must Have

Really Great
Rush (not as critically loved because it's Rutsey instead of Peart, but I love it)

Still Pretty Much Essential
Fly By Night
Permanent Waves
Moving Pictures

Sleeper Pick
Hold Your Fire (maybe because this was one of the tours I saw them on in the 1980s and I remember liking the "songs off the new album" almost as much as the classic numbers)

Definitely check out the series Classic Albums.

Friday, March 8, 2019

From high brow to low brow, from BlacKkKlansman to Fuller House

My pop-culture intake the past week or so has taken a deep dive from all the way at the top level of sophistication to the lowest depths of low-brow culture.

Luckily, it started and ended with a highlight that I'm not embarrassed to discuss. Shamed by having seen so few of the Academy Award-nominated best films, I was inspired to head to pay-per-view to see BlacKkKlansman. I intended to watch about half of the film late one night when I was already exhausted. But 2-plus hours later, the end credits were rolling and it had seemed like no time had gone by.

Before the Oscars, I was definitely hoping for big winning nights for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, but after seeing Klansman, I'm not so sure that it and other movies (can't wait to see Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody) aren't at least as deserving of the top honors.

Upon reflection, I was actually a little embarrassed at how few Spike Lee joints I've seen. I loved Clockers, 25th Hour, and He Got Game. I truly can't remember if I've seen Do the Right Thing. So I'm putting that and 4 Little Girls, A Huey P. Newton Story, When the Levees Broke, She's Gotta Have It, and Malcolm X on my watch list. (Here's a good list of his top movies.) BlacKkKlansman is 5 out of 5 stars.

When you have kids, you have to watch things you wouldn't normally. My 11-year-old son and I watched Dodge Ball (I had already seen it once), which is mildly inappropriate. The Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn love triangle and fitness competition starts the movie somewhat boringly but when the Dodge Ball competition kicks in, it really is pretty fun stuff for both adults and kids. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Dipping lower into low brow is admitting that my kids love Fuller House on Netflix. I still have never seen an episode of Full House, but I have to admit this reboot is hilarious in an awful-acting sort of way. The whole thing reminds me of Three's Company. It might be more kid oriented than that classic 1980s show, but then again, I think I count about a dozen kisses every episode. These people love to kiss. I guess the Olsen twins were in the original. They're not in this one. All the characters are likable and, oh my god, when John Stamos occasionally appears - is he gorgeous or what? 1 out of 5 stars for production values and acting, but 4 out of 5 stars for pure entertainment value.

I took my pop-culture video diet back into the realm of sophistication by watching the odd yet critical-praised Call Me By Your Name. The movie is a bit slow, but it adds up to a powerful story by the end, especially when the father tells his son that his heart should remain strong and full of love and fondness for the affair he's carried on with an older man while the man stayed with their family for the summer in Northern Italy in the 1980s. Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer turn in weird but relaxed and realistic performances as the bin-men who fall in love. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 18, 2019

My favorite 82 music releases of 2018 - plus a few B-sides

Courtney Barnett keeps releasing some of the best indie rock
You can listen to all these albums at Google Play here.

Biggest Disappointments: After a very promising start to The Lemon Twigs' career, Go to School is like an infantile, bad knock-off of something relatively Elton John-like. And Death Cab for Cutie fails for the first time to make my annual list when it has a new release with the middle-of-the-road Thank You for Today. Greta Van Vleet's Anthem of the Peaceful Army is what you get when you're expecting high-flying Zeppelin and you get fly-attracting Zebra.

Best Archive Dig: The Beatles' White Album is, on most days, my favorite of the band's releases. The massive Super Deluxe might be too much even for a diehard like me, but The Esher Demos part of it is worth the price of admission alone.

Best EP: The Decemberists’ Down on the Knuckle is a great EP in a year short on the form.

82: Of Montreal: White is Relic/Irrealis Mood (this band gets weirder all the time but also keeps things hoppin’)
81: Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Going On (nowhere near the band’s heyday back in the 80s and 90s, with too much ambience and not enough pop, but still so many head and shoulders above most bands)
80: Papercuts: Parallel Universe Blues (a pretty, new-wave release from a San Francisco band that's been around for a while and I've finally now discovered)
79: Peter Bjorn and John: Darker Days (a bit of a surprising throwback to have the "Young Folks" stars in here with new music, but this is a pretty darn good album)
78: The Breeders: All Nerve (there's nothing here nearly as powerful as "Cannonball," but that's a tall order, and any new Breeders is always welcome)
77: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Wrong Creatures (while not necessarily standing out in the hard-rock band’s canon, BRMC albums are always good)
Even the old was new this year with this release by the obscure Glands
76: Free Cake for Every Creature: The Bluest Star (one of several big dropoffs on this list from a top new twee band in the land)
75: Redd Kross: Hot Issue (a long-lost 80s and 90s punk-pop band returns with a pretty darn interesting and good album)
74: Ian Sweet: Crush Crusher (another band in the Soccer Mommy and Snail Mail vein that brings great hooks all around)
73: Midland: On the Rocks (probably the best pure country album of the year, with at least two serious keepers in "Drinkin' Problem" and "Burn Out")
72: BRONCHO: Double Vanity (a big drop-off from the band's debut, but it's like getting another Jesus and the Mary Chain album, so that's good)
71: Dungen with Woods: Myths 003 (cinematographic prog for the modern era)
70: Tomo Nakayama: Pieces of Sky (cinematographic folk that came out of nowhere to hit me just right, again and again throughout the year)
69: Gruff Rhys: Babelsberg (a lazy Sunday-morning grower from a consistent indie-rock eccentric)
68: Matthew Sweet: Tomorrow's Daughter (my 11-year-old couldn't be convinced it wasn't a new Beatles record; his instincts are right, this is Girlfriend-era-like Sweet)
67: LowRay: Friends and the Fakers (why settle for Bon Jovi when you can have this soundalike band that has much better hooks and melody?)
Detroit brings a serious new rocker to the world in Anna Burch
66: Kurt Vile: Bottle It In (an extremely laid-back throwback to the 1970s Laurel Canyon sound)
65: Public Access T.V.: Street Safari (a throwback to a Strokes-like time of New York City power-pop innocence; not the band's best release, but extremely catchy nonetheless)
64: Nap Eyes: I'm Bad Now (if the whole album doesn't match the perfect pop leadoff track, "Every Time the Feeling," there are still enough Lou Reed-like hooks to make it all pretty enjoyable)
63: Smashing Pumpkins: Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 ... (definitely feels a little icky having near-fully-reunited Pumpkins in a list at this late date, but there are a handful of top-notch 90s-style pop-rockers here)
62: Say Hi: Caterpillar Centipede (this band sounds like a poppy version of Tom Waits or maybe like the new Eels)
61: Chandra: Transportation (I don't think it's because I like talking about transportation; I think it's because I also like sassy, crisp Human League tech-pop)
60: Belle and Sebastian: How to Solve Our Human Problems Part 3 (the is the closest B&S have gotten to Burt Bacharach 70s swing pop, and it's a welcome edition to the band's monumental catalog)
59: Old Crow Medicine Show: Volunteer (this always-reliable band produces another great collection of the best bluegrass pop that you’ll find anywhere)
58: Titus Andronicus: A Productive Cough (a tipsy and jaunty ship of pop-punk-weirdo pirates sling relevant platitudes like "we're in for a real rough year" and "mass transit madness")
57: Ruler: Winning Star Champion (I know nothing about who or what this band is, but they bring an undeniable catchiness to every song)
56: Great Lakes: Dreaming Too Close to the Edge (I haven't thought much about these Elephant 6ers since the early 2000s, but this is beautiful country-tinged California-style pop)
55: Lucy Dacus: Historian (I wasn't crazy about her heavily-praised debut - including being named Magnet's #1 album of 2016 - but this followup is a different, much larger-feeling story)
Illuminati Hotties help make 2018 a seriously great year for women in rock
54: Alpaca Sports: From Paris With Love (you have to be in the right mood, but if that mood is super happy love songs like what Tweety Bird would likely sing, then this is your band)
53: David Byrne: American Utopia (it definitely doesn't compare with the best of the Talking Heads, but Byrne's commentary and beats are still worth lots of listens)
52: Art Brut: Wham! Bang! Pow! Let's Rock Out (this 2000s Brit band came back out of nowhere with an album title that pretty much sums it up)
51: Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Years (not nearly as good as the band’s last stunner, but this is great honky-tonkin’ punk that not many do well)
50: Eels: The Deconstruction (having somewhat abandoned this band a handful of years ago, it was surprising to hear such a grand return to form on this diverse release, including the heartbreaking "Sweet Scorched Earth")
49: Dr. Dog: Critical Equation (a band that continues to surprise with awesome consistency; I doubt I would ever skip one of their Replacement-y tunes if it ever came up on a random shuffle of my library)
48: The Sea and Cake: Any Day (this is a slow grower from my favorite jazz-pop band of all time)
47: The Decemberists: I’ll Be Your Girl (providing countless singalongs to go with an already-overflowingly wealth of greatest hits throughout its discography, the Portland lit-rockers succeed yet again)
46: Camp Cope: How to Socialize & Make Friends (another entry into the Soccer Mommy/Snail Mail indie-rock sweepstakes, but undeniable Australian catchiness - and oh that accent)
45: The English Beat: Here We Go Love (would have never guessed these 80s ska-wavers would ever make another year-end list, but this feel-good set is just so so uplifting right now)
44: Colleeen Green: Casey's Tape/Harmontown Loops (this is yet another album of pure-pop mastery from Green, who had a great Twitter conversation this year with my workplace, Mobility Lab, about transit)
Kero Kero Bonito is some weird stuff but also kinda normal like Boy George
43: Nap Eyes: I'm Bad Now (Canadians that any fan of Velvet Underground and Destroyer will love. And what's not to love about either of those comparisons)
42: Buffalo Tom: Quiet and Peace (1990s power poppers add a much-appreciated new album to their stunning discography)
41: Son Volt: The Search (this 22-song epic is some of Jay Farrar’s best work since his Trace album and long-ago Uncle Tupelo releases with Jeff Tweedy)
40: Lily Allen: No Shame (I have always liked her rude pop, but at first I didn't like this. I started loving it on second and third listens)
39: Superchunk: What a Time to Be Alive (the true me masters are back with another album is leagues' superior to any of the competition)
38: Okkervil River: In the Rainbow Rain (epic storytelling like opener "Famous Tracheotomies" - who knew this info about Gary Coleman? - lend to another excellent release from OR)
37: Tracyanne Campbell and Danny: Tracyanne Campbell and Danny (a melancholy rocker 0 by Campbell's Camera Obscura standards - that is the year's dreamiest release)
36: Family of the Year: Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Nighttime (about as clean of a slate of beautiful pop music I heard this year)
35: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs (sounding a little like an Australian new-wave Tom Petty, this band has real potential to go places)
34: Elise Davis: Cactus (a beautiful slide of the way country music is supposed to be made)
33: Parquet Courts: Wide Awake! (this is a little bit of a letdown from one of the consistently best outfits around, but there are enough highlights to keep it high on this list)
32: MGMT: Little Dark Age (back after a bit off an absence, this catchy release helps them take over for the Flaming Lips as king of the psych-pop bands)
31: Albert Hammond, Jr.: Francis Trouble (a pure joy blast of prime-era Strokes replica)
30: Paul Weller: True Meanings (the former leader of The Jam has been on a hot streak lately, with this suave release right up there among his best solo efforts)
29: Juliana Hatfield: Sings Olivia Newton-John (I loved ONJ as a kid, and I've loved JH as an adult. This is a beautiful mash up. If Juliana were a star in the 1970s, she would have starred in Grease)
28: The Longshot: Love is for Losers (Billie Joe Armstrong knows how to get the party started with this Green Day-like surprise release)
27: Mudhoney: Digital Garbage (this is a glorious return to the nasty early grunge days of Superfuzz Bigmuff and Piece of Cake)
All these years later, Ice Cube is just still so good
26: Fucked Up: Dose Your Dreams (this is the most sprawling and ambitious FU record to date, and it seems like it might be their classic)
25: Eleanor Friedberger: Rebound (she went from totally complicated with her Fiery Furnaces band to super accessible with her solo albums. This is slightly less accessible but perhaps all the more essential because of it)
24: Sunflower Bean: Twenty-two in Blue (these young indie rockers from NYC pump out blasts of loud and soft punk and pop that should make all fans of fast and slow very happy)
23: Bossie: Not Pictured (a long-lost 80s mall-rat soundtrack for today's Gen Z new wavers)
22: J Mascis: Elastic Days (it's a fool's errand to think the Dinosaur Jr. frontman will ever release any other music than the stellar kind found throughout this pretty release)
21: Snail Mail: Lush (this may be a tad bit of a letdown because her 2016 debut EP was so darn good, but it still portends a big future star)
20: Flasher: Constant Image (don't know about this band, but it's consistently catchy and probably the year's best shoegaze/psych-pop effort)
19: BRONCHO: Bad Behavior (these Oklahoma weirdos - are there any other kind of Oklahomans? - put together another ultra-bouncy collection of Beach Boys-influenced pop tunes)
18: Swearin': Fall Into the Sun (motley indie-pop related to Waxahatchee that offers boy-girl vocals in the vein of New Pornographers, Butterglory, and Superchunk)
17: Sneeze: Shhh! Sex Gang ... (definitely the least-known rag-tag band of indie-rock survivors on this list. Former Aussie members of The Lemonheads and Godstar make an epic rock-'n-roll soundtrack)
16: Jeff Tweedy: WARM (this is not necessarily near the top of the Tweedy/Wilco/Uncle Tupelo cannon, but the handful of songs like "I Know What It's Like" - straight from Tupelo circa 1993 - make it a warm addition anyway)
15: Ice Cube: Everythang's Corrupt (he's been around forever, but everything he does I continue to love. Cube may have finally bumped himself into the position of my favorite rapper of all time)
14: Tony Molina: Kill the Lights (a gentle little lo-fi release that is the best non-GBV-related GBV-like release of the year - particularly in a Tobin Sprout way)
13: Kero Kero Bonito: Time 'n' Place (this is the best 80s-throwback weirdo pop I've heard in a while. File between Culture Club and Shonen Knife)
12: The Goon Sax: We're Not Talking (this is an 80s wave throwback group that bounces between mopey lo-fi and seriously rocking. The latter parts make it a candidate for dance album of the year)
11: Paul McCartney: Egypt Station (Sir Paul is up to a lot of ageless shenanigans in his senior years, and this might be the album of the year if he had chopped the last 5 or 6 songs from the end)
10: illuminati hotties: Kiss Yr Frenemies (the debut cattle call from a creative wackjob band of twee Millennials)
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco keeps releasing about the best rock out there
09: Hinds: I Don’t Run (there is no sophomore slump here with possibly Spain’s greatest-ever indie -rock band)
08: Hatchie: Sugar & Spice (this is the best EP of the year, with every song from the Australian songstress topping the Cranberries by miles in terms of spaciness and rocking hits)
07: Superorganism: Superorganism (the debate from this mysterious collective is a real growing, sounding like a mix of the Flaming Lips, Polyphonic Spree, and something quirky and new altogether)
06: Soccer Mommy: Clean (this artist's debut was high on my list for 2017; let's hope she, along with Courtney Barnett, are the beginning of a wave of lo-fi, ultra-cool female indie artists)
05: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Sparkle Hard (this is a complex pop album from Pavement's former leader; he's been making the most interesting music in rock now for going on 30 years)
04: Anna Burch: Quit the Curse (There is a lot to love about this album, including it sounds a lot in places like my old 90s band Birmingham Squadron)
03: Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (this is a remake of an earlier album, which just goes to show how good this band is - if its record can be so high on the list with "a remake of an earlier album")
02: The Glands: Double Coda (this is a shockingly great collection of previously-unreleased "catchy yet complicated" pop from a short-lived band from the 1990s that I'd never heard about until now. The leader of the band actually died in 2016. New enough to me to make this list)
01 (tie): Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You really Feel (there just really isn't any competition for the top spot year after year at this point. Her third album keeps the indie-rock party rolling right along. Like the Breeders meets Pavement meets something that is entirely her own)
01 (tie): However, I'm issuing a shocking tie at the top. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga: A Star is Born soundtrack (I cried way too many times during this movie to not acknowledge the greatness of these songs. Not a Gaga fan, this is the best stuff of her career by faaaaar, and Cooper is a natural sounding like an upgrade from greats like Kris Kristofferson and Neil Diamond)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

My reflections on TransportationCamp

This article originally appeared at
It’s always fascinating to see what topics are trending at our yearly TransportationCamp DC unconference – where almost all of the sessions are picked that day by attendees themselves.
Last Saturday at Catholic University, about 520 fans of transportation braved the cold to dig into the weeds on topics and burning questions that they wanted to workshop and take back in 2019 to further solve.

Which topics were popular?

At TransportationCamp DC a year ago, Campers’ favorite modes to discuss were bikes and trains, with busses and walking next. There was a surprising lack of interest in autonomous vehicles, ride-hailing, and ride sharing.
But, from my back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the session titles (all listed here, and with full notes of most sessions), this year was pretty different. Of the 56 sessions throughout the day, 5 were primarily focused on scooters – which definitely proved to be in most of the day’s conversational thread. As far as modes, busses were the next popular with 3 sessions. Bikes dropped down to 1, airplanes 1, carpools and vanpools 1, and transit in general with 1. Unlike last year, there were no sessions focused primarily on rail. And AVs, which were less the talk of the town last year, seemed to bump up in interest, with 3 sessions.
Outside of mode, the popular topics were definitely data (9 sessions), planning (6), equity (3), policy, such as a session I moderated with Washington, DC’s Transportation Director Jeff Marootian, nicely covered here by Greater Greater Washington (3), and the public (7). Many people told me they loved the behavior-economics bent – trying to understand how people make their fundamental transportation decisions – of many of the sessions, especially the kind offered in a featured session in the Hannan auditorium by Duke Professor Maura Farver. (She also works at The Center for Advanced Hindsight.) Farver’s session was titled, “Your blueprint for mapping people’s transportation behavior and habits.”
And data appears to finally be having its day in the sun. After years of knowing that the transportation industry has mega-loads of data, it may now actually be doing something with that data. TransitCenter, one of Camp’s sponsors, was in the midst of releasing its Open Transit Data Toolkit, which helps even the least tech-nerdy people figure out how to analyze where and how people are traveling. And TransitScreen, another sponsor, announced that it’s working with OpenMobilityData to archive transit data feeds from cities all over the world as a way to help software developers make cool tech that will help people discover transit.
There were a handful of topics that had 2 sessions, including: partnerships, the environment/traffic congestion, transit cost and payment options, safety, and “fun” – meaning there was a session to play the planning card game Cards Against Urbanity and another for yoga.
The other topics that got just 1 session included parking, rural issues, and communications (down a bit in focus from previous DC Camps).

A handful of key insights from the Camp’s notetakers

One highly provocative session questioned whether there should be bike lanes at all in our streets. Session leader Mark Egge noted that infrastructure money is scarce, there are unclear safety benefits, they supposedly don’t attract new riders, and they’re often poorly planned.
Session leaders from the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance discussed the need for a “transportation report card, like that produced on the state of the Chesapeake Bay. Some metrics suggested for such a report card included convenience, seat utilization, FHWA and INRIX congestion data, satisfaction levels, access during “free flow” versus congestion (Minnesota Accessibility Observatory), cost, and safety.
Do you know what could fit in a 22 x 10 parking space? 75 people standing! That and other amazing tidbits and lists were discussed in a session titled Curb Appeal on what to do with our curbs.
Some of the solutions for scooters and bikeshares discussed in a session on broadening the user base focused on giving more access to teenagers and forming partnerships with high schools.
Among the bad habits that started to break in 2018 were the smugness of experts in thinking the public will instinctively adore autonomous vehicles, not demanding enough from transit data, and not realizing that cities need mobility managers. Those were in the featured session that included Calvin Thigpen of Lime, Tiffany Chu of Remix, Katherine Kortum of the National Academies, and Laramie Bowron of Swiftly.
And projects we should be excited about in 2019 include shipment tracking via SafeShift; Ford’s City of Tomorrow; pilots to find new and interesting uses for curbs; the public-private data clearinghouse called SharedStreets; Zipcar’s carsharing partnerships in New York City; equity-based decongestion pricing policy; the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle; and Streetlight Data for pedestrian, bike and transit flows. Those predictions came from featured panelists Chris Forinash of Nelson\Nygaard, Sabrina Sussman of Zipcar, Allison Wylie of Uber, and Courtney Ehrlichman of The Ehrichman Group.

Other perspectives

We’ll know a lot more after next week’s post-Camp survey goes out to attendees, but thought you all might like this early, and, as I mentioned, back-of-the-envelope content analysis. Along with our own coverage of TransportationCamp, TransitScreen and Street Justice also had some perspectives.

And a big thanks

From our venue Catholic University to Arlington County’s staff (largely consisting of Mobility Lab’s close partners at the Destination Sales & Marketing Group) to the note-taking volunteers provided by Young Professionals in Transportation and the student discounts courtesy of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), we thank you.
And to Andrew Glass Hastings of sponsor Remix, who helped lead The Human Spectrogram exercise (look for more analysis and dissection on that soon) and sponsor Zipcar, whose Sabrina Sussman helped us secure Marootian for a featured session (her story about how everyone needs to tell their stories about why they care about transportation may have been the event’s highlight), we thank you.
And to Leib Kaminsky, who helped Mobility Lab (remember, we’re researchers and communicators, not event planners) secure our best-ever group of sponsors, we thank you. And we thank the sponsors themselves: Uber, Zipcar, TransitCenter, Lime, Lyft, car2go, Remix, Bird, Noblis, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Swiftly, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), Young Professionals in Transportation, TransitScreen, the American Bus Association (ABA), Kimley-Horn, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and Nelson\Nygaard.
And last and most important, thank you to all the attendees. We think you’re taking transportation to another level!
Photos of me on stage as master of ceremonies, Campers brainstorming, and Campers discussing which sessions to attend at “The Board” all by M.V. Jantzen/Flickr.