Archive | March, 2012

Personal Soundtrack

29 Mar

The Song

Sprawl II Remix by Soulwax  [Radio Rip]

 

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) by Arcade Fire

 

Easily one of the best albums of the past several years, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” has that rare timeless feel to it.  The musicianship behind the songs is incredible, and the entire album holds up just as well on the hundreth listen as it did on the first.  “The Suburbs” seems fated to enter the ‘essential’ albums canon, so that decades from now it can be pointed to as a well-crafted representation of the vague sense of dread and turmoil that marked life in 2010.  The excellent songwriting has a lot to do with the timeless feel of “The Suburbs,” especially with regards to the issues tackled in the lyrics.  Modern American life in the titular suburbs is the main focus of the album, and the lack of fulfillment coupled with a burning desire to just get out are recurring themes.

One of the standout tracks on The Suburbs is “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”.  The title refers to the overwhelming sprawl of the suburbs and the lyrics speak of life and despair in that environment over moody synthesizers.  The electronic element of “Sprawl II” opens it up to remix potential more than any other track, and DJ duo Soulwax have capitalized on that potential with an excellent re-working of the song.

Soulwax take the throbbing bass underlying the original “Sprawl II” and bring it out to forefront, tweaking and manipulating it into a funky, off-kilter beat that gets progressively dirtier as the track progresses.  Adding in what sounds like someone pounding away on a bucket fashioned into a drum, the remix has a high energy level while maintaining the moody darkness of the original.  The theme of ‘living in the sprawl’ remains intact with the new track.   Soulwax does the rare thing with a remix – creating an excellent new song that breathes on its own, while at the same time supplementing and celebrating the spirit of the original song.

The Activity

It’s another weekend morning in the suburb community you’ve called your home for the past eight years.  You moved out here pretty soon after you got married, and have now settled into the straight-shooting life of someone with a nice house, two kids, a dog, and a minivan.  You’re driving a pack of young soccer players to practice in said minivan today, fulfilling your duties as doting Soccer Parent.  One of the players is your 8-year old, who lately has been displaying an alarming tendency to be an entitled, well, brat.

The urban lifestyle of your earlier years has largely blurred into a hazy memory at this point, but there’s still some remnants of your free-spirited side that have been simmering below your well-polished demeanor for quite some time now.  The past few months in particular have been marked with constant reminders of the turbulent yet satisfying life you used to lead in that cramped loft downtown.  Ever since you and the spouse stumbled upon that rock concert at the sweaty, claustrophobic club you thought was a trendy new restaurant, you’ve been feeling more and more restless.  Your spouse quickly dismissed the raucous noise as a novelty, but you’ve quietly been out there a few times since that night, just to drink some cheap beer and let out some energy on the dance floor.  And that little rebellion has started to seep into your mindset as you go about your day in the suburbs.

In fact, this morning you’ve been feeling particularly restless, and the soccer crew is not helping things.  As you pull up to the expansive grass field, your little All-Star is the last one to disembark through the sliding door.  On his way out, he turns to you and says he doesn’t want you driving his friends anymore because everything about you is embarrassing.  And he wants the Grape Capri-Suns ready after practice, because, as he’s said Ten Times, he doesn’t drink this Cherry shit.

As the slow whir of the automatic door punctuates this little exit speech, something inside you just kind of boils over.  In a strange state of calm, you reach for the radio dial and tune to your local indie station.  A dirty little beat comes on, and you crank the volume.  With the windows down and tunes blasting out, you slowly roll the van past the rest of the parents waiting idly in their cars.  You make eye contact with most of them, and an unspoken understanding is shared with some who know how you feel.  These ones fall in line behind your vehicle as you take off into the generic suburb streets.

Riding slow, bumping dance beats, and giving the Eye to anyone who looks your way, you make your way to the parking lot of the SuperMall.  Several other like-minded individuals have joined your procession along the way, and as a particularly great song comes over the speakers, you start circling the parking lot, eventually creating a gleaming ring of vans and CRVs that can hold an epic dance party.  Scared passersby in matching khakis look on as you and the rest of your new crew break it down and let some stress out.  Because someone’s got to do it.

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Working For The Weekend

26 Mar

Dan Swanky’s old pal and resident Steed recently reached the summit of the Job Search mountain and has been rewarded with a shiny new executive job at a towering skyscraper downtown.  The opportunity to hear Steed’s unique perspective on the business world is one we didn’t want to pass up.  So we gave him a pocket notebook, some Walking Around Money for his troubles, and then sat back to await the results.  His dispatches did not disappoint.

“A professional ‘Hello’ from my office in the clouds.  I’ve been here for two weeks now, and I still get pretty jazzed about being all the way up on the 40th floor.  The elevator ride up in the mornings offers up a little adrenaline boost that shakes the hangover cobwebs away and gets me amped up for the office.  To top that off, I then get to use my keycard to scan in through three secure doors on the way to my office area, which is really fucking sweet.  Casually flipping that card out on its little retractable string makes me feel like a dapper scientist, walking through secure areas on my way to do some top-secret stealth government shit.  It’s a little bit of a letdown when I get to my desk and realize all I’ve got to do are some spreadsheets, but I’m liking the daydream material.

But anyways.  You guys want to hear the gritty details about fast life in the working world.  It is definitely a crazy place here in the financial district, both in and out of the office.  There are unspoken rules all over the place, and I’m learning them almost as quickly as I’m bending them to my will.  I’m coming in on an ‘Entry-Level’ status here, but have serious designs on moving up the power ladder quickly, so I’ve been making some moves right off the bat.

One of the first moves I made was based off some ‘incidents’ that came up at my last few office jobs.  I found out that Rohit and Chad are the IT fellows assigned to my particular department, and I made a quick trip down to their offices to have a chat.  Several dollars and a few comped Dave & Busters’ Eat + Play Combos later, we had come to a little understanding.  As long as I wasn’t distributing company information, they’d watch my back in case I raised any red flags with web site traffic (Myspace, Sportsbook, Ashley Madison, etc.) or questionable email content.  Don’t want any messy tech issues impeding my rise to the top here.

After my chat with IT, I was exposed to a daily part of office life that should have some big-time implications for how my future plays out.  Lunchtime.  Here in the high-octane business district, the hours of 12-2 are filled with tension and strong power plays, both inside and outside the company’s walls.  At our company and in most others, officemates band together in groups before heading out to the local restaurants for some midday dining.  As a wolf enthusiast, I’ve become familiar with the pack mentality and let me tell you, these lunch groups are just a bunch of wolf packs in like-colored business shirts roving the downtown streets.  And like with every wolfpack, there are the alphas of the groups and the ones that want to be the alphas.

I got a heads-up on some of our alpha dynamics during my first week at the office.  I had already noticed that Curtis was one of the louder ones on my floor, and most of the catchphrases he coined were picked up quickly around the copyrooms.  He was usually leading the lunch charge every day, but one day a fellow named Stephen made a play at the morning meeting.  Stephen stated that he was really feeling like some Noodle Bar that day.  After a few quiet yet tense seconds Curtis calmly reiterated his plan to get some wraps at noon.  The tension was heavy for the next couple hours, but as 12 came around Stephen joined us for some tasty wraps.

I’ve also gotten a glimpse at how the lunch pack power plays get pretty intense outside of the office as well.  The packs usually organize according to company/industry, and stalk the business district streets during lunch hours.  The groups will usually keep their distance from each other, but will exchange professional head nods if they happen to pass by on the same sidewalk.  Occasionally, two friends from different packs will break off from the groups to exchange a handslap/hug or quick ‘whatsup’ before darting back to the home pack with assurances that it was ‘just a friend.’

From what  I can see, the opportunity to make a name for myself on these streets will come at lunch time.  Each pack typically occupies the same couple lunch spots for weeks at a time.  The transition of lunch spot from one pack to another usually happens naturally and with little excitement.  At times, however, one pack seeking to make a power statement can jump the gun on an occupied spot and attempt a hostile takeover.  This happened last week at the Subway down the street.

The Slim-Fit Plaids from the new boutique I-Bank had been getting squirrelly ever since moving onto the office block, and they showed up for $5 footlongs last Thursday, even though the Wells Fargo Stripes had been holding down the spot for a week.  There were a tense few moments when the Stripes milled about outside Subway’s glass doors, pretending to check their smartphones with furrowed brows, but one of their alphas eventually assumed control and they headed towards Quizno’s without further incident.

Strategic games  like these have gotten my competitive juices going, and I can’t wait to jump in to our office pack power game.  Once I’ve gotten some respect on the homefront, I can start making some moves on the lunchtime sidewalks towards becoming a regional presence.  Curtis had better watch his back, because I’m here to stay.  Let the games begin.”

Steed’s Business Ethics 101 continues on the next installment of Working For The Weekend…

A Different Kind Of Cinematic Excellence

22 Mar

The Theater.  At first, second, and third glance, it is an unlikely place for memorable cinematic experiences.  It was impossible to move in your seat without a high-pitched creak echoing out against the faded walls.  The floors were constantly sticky and you always had to be ready to lift your feet up at moment’s notice to allow spilled drinks to flow by underneath.

After about 20 minutes into the movie, the first empty bottle would fall over; that familiar clinking would sound out at least a few more times before the credits rolled.  There was a Coke-colored splatter just slightly visible on the bottom right hand corner of the screen, presumably the result of someone’s lobbed soda.  Every now and then, a disinterested teenage usher would walk down the aisles and jiggle a flashlight halfheartedly.  It was ostensibly to keep things under control, but they’d only bother you if you happened totake a pull from your wine bottle right in front of them – at that point they’d just make you throw it out before returning to your seat.

In terms of beverages, the best ‘personal’ drink options were either 40ozs (High Life is a local favorite) or the Pan Flute.  The Pan Flute is a 3-pack of 24oz beer cans that conveniently comes wrapped tightly together.  It vaguely resembles the Peruvian pan flute, but a vague resemblance is all it took for the name to catch on with the local college crowd.  The Pan Flute easily slips under a zipped-up hoodie or under the crook of your arm so that no one is the wiser as you slip past the box office.  The 24oz threesome is also much more than enough to keep you feeling alright throughout the whole movie.

You couldn’t just see any new release at The Theater.  There was an art to picking your spots.  There were some movies that would be ruined if seen there, some that would be alright but not really worth it, and then some that begged to be seen there.  At no other theater was there the same mixture of location, clientele, and environment.

The Theater was situated right in between campus and student apartments, and was also in a somewhat run-down neighborhood.  When you went to a movie, you were most likely going to find a varied crowd with a decent proportion of them inclined to partake in some kind of partying.  The Theater’s managers weren’t running too tight a ship, so there wasn’t much oversight going on.  You could count on enjoying yourself with some recreational beverages as long as you kept it in moderation.

This was a place best suited to enjoying some cold beers and a movie, with an audience that would largely be doing the same.  So you wanted to find a movie that would both supplement and be supplemented by this kind of ‘open-minded’ environment.  Some genres that turned out to fit this category well were broad comedies, ‘pot movies,’ mindless action flicks (but none that relied on huge amounts of special effects, because the grand scale of those would be lost on the drink-stained screen and shaky-at-best sound system), and most of all, horror movies.

It is this last type of movie that The Theater seemed tailor-made for.  There is something about watching a ridiculous horror movie on a dingy theater’s scratchy screen that feels akin to a classic moviegoer experience.  The super-intense, thematically profound horror movies are not the kind of horror we’re talking about here.  No, these are the slasher movies, the teen screams, the grindhouse creature features that inspire fits of frightened laughter and knowing groans with every crazy ‘kill scene.’

I came to horror, or specifically these particular brands of horror movies, later than I came to appreciate many other film genres.  For a long time, I was a bit too grossed out or disturbed by the randomly gratuitous violence in these movies.  But as I entered college – and not inconsequentially moved into the Theater’s neighborhood – I began to see the greatness potential in this horror canon.  Not great in terms of artistic merit and thoughtful filmmaking, but great in terms of the way these movies can become visceral events and communal experiences in a way that few other genres can.

Shortly after being introduced to The Theater, a few close friends and I spent one long summer introducing ourselves to the old-school horror movie catalog.  This involved spending many humid nights going through frosty six-packs and living vicariously through the doomed characters on-screen.  Talking (yelling) at these movies, in relative moderation, is an essential part of the viewing experience.  You can laugh at the ridiculousness of the 80s-era teen parties, or the absurd ways in which the killers take down their victims.  The nature of the action on screen moves the viewer to become more than just a passive spectator; few other types of movies can allow you to run the gamut from yelling, laughing, groaning in disgust, or cringing in fear in under two hours.

While it is highly enjoyable to watch these movies from the comfort of your own living room, it can be a much richer experience to venture out with some friends and beers to a venue that accommodates the lively atmosphere resulting from a horror showing.  The Theater provided that exact kind of venue, and I remember one particular viewing experience that stands out in memory as a shining example of the best things both The Theater and horror movies have to offer.  It was a drizzly night in early Spring, and the Friday the 13th remake had just hit theaters.  While this movie was critically panned and may seem wholly unremarkable on the surface, it was an exciting development for some of us in the area.

As part of our aforementioned Horror 101 summer, my friends and I had discovered the many joys of the old Friday The 13th series.  The original Friday The 13th was a bit more serious and straightforward than some of the other cheesy horror movies – there were legitimately unnerving and intense sequences, and the producers seemed intent on crafting a quality film experience.  But the original also laid the groundwork for the recurring motifs that would make the following sequels such great summer night horror material:  the good-looking but hilariously stereotypical teen protagonists, the incredibly dated style sense, the idyllic summer camp/cabin setting, the copious amounts of drugs, drinking and sex, the cartoonishly indestructible villain (Jason), and the creative yet often absurd death scenes.

We covered Friday 1-4 that summer, and watched as they got broader and dumber with each installment.  Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Viewing each one was a chance to drink, laugh, be disgusted, and sometimes, be a bit scared.  From hallmark moments like the inexplicable wheelchair death scene in Part 2 to the blatant gimmickry of the 3D effects in Part 3, the series never disappointed.  As strange as it is to say about movies concerning menacing killers, we developed a sincere fondness for these films over the course of the summer.  And it was due to this twisted fondness for the Friday movies and their brethren that we were excited to see the remake’s showtimes go up on The Theater’s haphazard Coming Attractions display.

Say what you will about the Friday The 13th remake – the crass, cash-in motives behind its creation and its lack of relative originality or quality as a piece of filmmaking cannot really be refuted.  But the real reasons we had to go see the movie at The Theater had nothing to do with the critical criteria placed on most films.  Instead, it had everything to do with us getting the opportunity to watch this trashy update of one of our favorite O.G. trashy horror movies, in an environment where the crowd experience would be almost as fun as the actual movie.  Where we could slip our Lite Pan Flutes under our sweatshirts on a rainy, dull night and head into a movie we could laugh at, groan at, and which got better as the beers got emptier.

There is something inherently comforting, almost like a borrowed nostalgia, about hearing the projector whir and the film crackle in a rundown theater with a teen slasher movie onscreen.  And while this seems like an elusive experience in today’s luxurious super-multiplex world, we managed to find and live it out at The Theater.

Sure, we would have probably preferred the original Friday or maybe some other vintage 80s classic on that screen – but we got what we came for.  There was plenty of gratuitous teen stupidity, drinking, pot smoking, sexing, and creative Jason slasher action to keep us entertained for two hours.  And there were plenty of other groups in that audience with a similar mindset and liquid accompaniment, which provided the kind of big communal watching experience that wasn’t possible in the living room.

There were no pretensions anywhere in the whole experience, from the shabby carpet in the lobby to the cracked seat covers to the cheap beer everyone smuggled in.  By the time the credits rolled and we moved back out into the night, we had a contented and pleasant buzz that was only partly due to the now-empty Pan Flutes.  It was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had in a long time.

For all the incredible, well-crafted, and visually-stunning films I’ve seen at high-quality theaters since then, I still find myself missing that shitty old Theater more times than I care to admit.  That kind of experience will be hard to duplicate again.  At least I can still hope to look forward to more long and hazy horror movie nights this summer.

Personal Soundtrack

19 Mar

 

The Song

Xxplosive by Dr. Dre

One guitar line, some xylophone, a backbeat, and hip-hop’s greatest hook man (RIP).  That’s all Dre needed to create a classic track on one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made.  We’re headed to the first weekend of Coachella in a couple of weeks, and I hadn’t really thought too much about what’s in store out in the desert until “Xxplosive” came on this weekend during some iPod shufflin’.  And now I can’t stop thinking about the Snoop & Dr. Dre headlining slot on Day Three.

Even after hearing it well over a hundred times, “Xxplosive”  still sounds as dangerously smooth today as it did upon its release; the same can be said for pretty much everything else on 2001.  In fact, it’s easy to forget how huge 2001 was in the early-2000’s, especially for someone starting to really discover hip-hop at the time.  Of course, there was groundbreaking and and classic hip-hop releases well before 2001, some from Dre himself.  But for a certain generation, the timing worked out so that as singles like “The Next Episode” and “Forgot About Dre” were blowing up and offering a gateway to the world of hip-hop, we were starting to take control of our own tastes in music and actively seeking out new sounds.

Putting 2001 on the headphones (so the parents wouldn’t be horrified) was the first time that listening to music became an entire experience, offering a worldview coming from a whole different planet than my own.  And the world offered up in 2001 was hypnotic and intense – I couldn’t get enough.  Dark and graphic images of drinking, drugs and murder abounded, yet there was often a swaggering, party-loving vibe in the songs to keep things bumping and high-energy.  You could put on the album at a party and get seals of approval from most everyone there.  From the initial release date until well into my high school career, 2001 was a staple during everything from huge house parties to summer afternoons spent sneaking 40s in the backyard.

“Xxplosive” is a great example of the craftsmanship and overwhelming talent behind 2001 – Dre pushed hip-hop into a new era with his brilliant mixture of traditional instruments and wholly unique electronic flourishes.  The sound was menacing, but funky and filled with an endless barrage of hooks to keep you listening.  I definitely couldn’t stop listening to the album after I first heard it.  2001 was the first CD I put on the car stereo when I finally got my learner’s permit, and I terrified at least a few neighbors by blaring “Xxplosive” on repeat with the windows down on the parents’ car.

The album became a hugely influential part of the soundtrack to my early music-exploring years, and the chance to see some of these songs performed live at Coachella will be a special thing.  Expectations are probably unrealistically high, but there’s no way to lower them now.  At the very least, I’m just hoping we get to hear the slinky guitar sample of “Xxplosive” sounding out into the desert night as the good Dr. himself starts up the beat.

The Activity

TBD while Dancing in the Desert on Sunday, April 15.

Bracket Bustin’: East & Midwest Regions

14 Mar

For our musings on the South & West regions in this year’s bracket, head here.

East Bracket

Randall P. Floyd:

– So far the most buzz to come out of this region has been Syracuse’s loss of star Fab Melo, who’s been suspended for the tournament due to academic problems.  I had doubts about the Orangemen’s mental focus and toughness even before this, and now it’s even harder to see them getting very far in the tourney this year.  They have an easy game in the first round, but still expect to see several shots of Peeved Jim Boeheim on the bench before the second round’s over.

– Wisconsin looks to be the team most able to take advantage of Syracuse’s misfortune.  The Badgers have some tourney experience and can easily sneak into the Elite Eight or maybe even the Final Four.  Just don’t expect to have a great time watching several rounds of the grind-em-out, ‘first to 50 wins’ games that the Big Ten is so strangely proud of.

– The quicker Ohio State just goes away, the better.

– Florida State has been looking sneakily good all season, starting with strong regular-season wins over Duke and UNC and finishing up with an ACC Tournament title.  Their ranking might not make them an ‘underdog’ pick, but I still think they’ll surprise people with how far they’ll make it.  Also, they’re being coached by Bunny from The Wire, which is worth at least two tourney wins in its own right.  If I was a FSU student, the Hamsterdam Fan Shirts would have been made months ago.

– Gonzaga always seems to have at least 2-3 players who look like that shaggy kid in your homeroom or dorm hall who rocked sweatpants 24/7, played a lot of FIFA, and had a great pot hook.

–  It wouldn’t be very surprising if Vandy and Harvard had velvet pouches of gold coins kept on the scorers’ table during their game and then delivered to the winner, just to make things a little more interesting and worth their time.

– Feels like the Sweet Sixteen matchups coming out of the East will be Kansas State vs. Wisconsin, and Florida State vs. Ohio State, with the region to be decided by Wisconsin vs. Florida State.

Donovan Kess:

Syracuse.  My chips were all in with Syracuse until Fab Melo was declared ineligible. Losing Melo impacts the style of gameplay dramatically, however this will not be an easy upset for UNC Asheville who will need to take advantage of the defensive holes by transitioning fast and winning the inside game.

Wisconsin.  The alma mater of my soon to be father-in-law, the Badger’s made an impressive end of season run, which makes me hate to like them ever more. Not counting the two losses to Michigan State, this team has played some impressive basketball this season and they will need to bring it against Montana in Round 1 and then potentially against Vanderbilt in Round 2.

Cincinnati.  After going 1-1 with Syracuse for the regular season, and gaining momentum with wins against Marquette, Georgetown and Connecticut, it just feels right watching Cincinnati advance to late in the tourney. The obvious question will be if they can get past a round 2 matchup versus a rabid Florida State.

Ohio St.  With a fresh loss to Michigan State the Buckeye team is deflated, but needs to realize they played ruthless basketball all season. They are capable of maintaining a steady offense while not letting anything go on D. The big match ups include a possible round 2 versus Gonzaga.

Midwest Bracket

RPF:

–  Kansas has been a popular pick to get upset early on, based upon some of their recent tourney struggles, and Detroit is no push-over behind their scoring leader and coach’s son, Ray McCallum.  McCallum is a solid player and was even given an offer to play at Kansas, which he turned down to play for his dad.  This could make for an interesting game, but Kansas is probably just too strong.

– Not to be outdone by fellow WAC member, St. Mary’s always seems to have a few of the bushy-haired roommates of the aforementioned Zag brahs at their disposal.

– Cal was the only Pac-12 team to receive an at-large bid to the tourney this year, which is totally justified.  The Pac-12 play this year bordered on a pillow fight, and the level of excitement at the conference tournament in Staples was dismal.  You had a good chance of finding a higher level of basketball being played at the USC street courts down the street.

– North Carolina finished off the year on a good run, after being stunned by a last-minute Duke comeback in Chapel Hill.  Can the Mr. Rogers of college basketball take them to the ‘ship this year?

–  Creighton has a little bit of that ‘surprise run’ feel to them this year, but face a daunting second round challenge against UNC.  Expect a lot of ‘scrappy’ references.

– Temple seems like a bit of a surprise as a 5-seed – feels like I haven’t heard anything about them all year.  The only thing I can think of when I hear about Temple is Bill Cosby.  In fact, if the selection committee had taken a break during the bracketing process and Bill Cosby: Himself was on TV, and everyone enjoyed some laughs and Pudding Pops before getting back to their work, then I can totally understand how that moved Temple up several seeds.

DK:

UNC.  My third most watched team of the year behind Duke and Western Washington University, this year’s squad is electric with a stellar pace that is backed up by a defense that affects every team it plays. My favorite matchups include a potential Round 3 battle against Temple.

Temple.  Temple always has a respectful basketball team on the court and this year is no different. They beat Duke early in the season and have been riding that big blue wave of joy ever since. Two of their players are shooting nearly 40% behind the arc which will make the possible round 2 matchup against Michigan even more exciting.

Georgetown.  They are a great defensive team that should go far in the tournament due to the depth of their regular season schedule and the veteran status of Henry Sims and Jason Clark. The Hoyas possible matchups are challenging with possible opponents of Perdue in Round 2 and Kansas in Round 3.

Kansas.  A perennial tournament favorite that should have no problem dealing with the first two rounds of this tournament. The discipline required to win against Georgetown or Syracuse rounds will come from the lessons they learned during the early season losses to both Duke and Kentucky.

Enjoy the Madness and stop by Dan Swanky’s throughout the tourney for more straight talk and snappy sound bites.

Bracket Bustin’: South & West Regions

13 Mar

America loves any excuse to turn an event into an Event.  Particularly over the last several years, certain happenings from the worlds of sports, entertainment, or minor holidays have become cultural institutions that can serve as common talking points for anyone with a TV or access to the Internet.  You could go years without seeing a single football game, yet still obligated to attend your neighbor’s Super Bowl party and act interested for four hours.  The day after Thanksgiving is no longer just a casual day off – it’s Black Friday, a violent and fearful Event shared by millions across the country.  And the NCAA tournament is not just a collegiate sporting event.  It’s March Madness, a glorious Event in which normally mild-mannered and upstanding working folk fall all over themselves to throw wads of cash into unregulated gambling rings and shirk their professional responsibilities for two whole days.

Is this a bad thing?  No.  March Madness is American through and through, and because Dan Swanky’s loves America, we have no choice but to add our own noise to this Event.  (This is also a perfect opportunity for us to open up the new Sports Section of our fine establishment.)  Since you’re probably deep in the midst of bracket fatigue by now, we’ll eschew that tidy and constrictive type of breakdown and instead offer up some freeform thinking on each region of the tournament.  We may not be entirely objective and our feelings may color our judgment, but we’re not messing around.  So have a Schlitz and grab a pen.

South Bracket

Randall P. Floyd:

– Kentucky is the Tourney’s No. 1 overall this year, and I’d have to agree with that assessment.  Even though head coach John Calipari is the sports equivalent of a shifty used car salesman, this year he has pulled the reverse Ashley Schaeffer and has moved from pimping Kias to proudly featuring top-of-the-line BMWs on his lot.  Starting with the (arguably) Number One Player In The Country Anthony Davis, Kentucky is stacked with talent and should make it out of this region, at the very least.

– If Duke and Notre Dame both win their first games and meet in the Round of 32, we’ll be treated to the highest concentration of Pure Class the tournament has seen in a long time.  I mean, isn’t this what the Game is all about?  Just a bunch of bros taking off the polos and putting the textbooks down long enough to Play The Game The Right Way?  Count me in.

–  To be fair to Duke, (which is tough) they’ve got a great point guard in Austin Rivers, and with Coach K once again being gifted a fairly unremarkable bracket draw, they’ll probably make some noise in the tourney again this year.  Fundamentals, baby.

–  I like a Baylor-Duke matchup coming in the Sweet Sixteen, which will be an interesting game as Baylor has some exciting athleticism going up against Duke’s controlled and heady style.  The only negative going against Baylor right now is their unfortunate push to bring the Oregon-style jerseys to college basketball.  The neon green and camo unis should be quickly swept under the rug.

– Kentucky vs. Baylor in the Elite Eight because you’re only going to get a Swanky approval for Duke from my esteemed partner.

Donovan Kess: 

My favorite teams from the Coach K Region:

Kentucky.  Kentucky is a fortress of domination and a favored team to win the Tournament. They are highly consistent and the recent loss to Vanderbilt is a blessing in disguise as it will provide the boost needed to charge into the tournament energized.

Wichita State.  The experienced Shocker’s will defeat the underdog favorite VCU in Round 1, and then manage the winner of Indiana vs. New Mexico St. in Round 2. The attentiveness achieved from these two victories should set them up nicely to battle against Kentucky, which would be the greatest challenge of Wichita State’s 2012 season.

UNLV.  An early season victory against Carolina is the blueprint to follow for success. They need to find the intensity of that game and sustain it early in the tournament with the possible second and third round opponents of Baylor and Duke.

Duke.  For most Cameron Crazies, the disappointment of last week’s loss to Carolina has been replaced by the pleasure of no longer having to share a tent with 12 other people. Duke has had a great ride this season, and has seen a few of its players mature to tournament quality, including Austin Rivers and Ryan Kelly. The keys to success will be maintaining a high level of perimeter play, improving rebounding, and cutting down on the amount of turnovers. A possible second round match up against Notre Dame is about as far forward as the Blue Devil’s should be looking.

 

West Bracket

RPF:

–  Michigan State seems to come in under the radar a lot for Tourney time, but by the time the Elite Eight comes around, there they are again for yet another year.  They don’t seem like a sexy pick this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they make another long run.  They’re just kind of like that bland guy with a nice watch and a steady job who eventually ends up marrying the hottest woman in town.  You’re not sure how, you kind of expected it, and you can’t really be that mad about it.

–  Billikens is a delightful word to say.  I will wear it out while I can.

–  After a few seasons of Breaking Bad, it seems like New Mexico may be one of the most depressing places to live in America. I don’t know too much about the University of New Mexico team this year, but I think maybe they need this one.  So they’ve got my backing.

–  Speaking of depressing places in America, here comes BYU.  They don’t have my backing.

–  Billy Donovan continues to be the slicked-back ageless wonder of NCAA basketball.  I swear he’s been coaching Florida basketball for at least twenty years.

–  I really like Missouri this year and think they’ve got a shot to win it all.  Murray State might be a little bit of a dark horse in this region, but Missouri is athletic, deep, and confident – in addition to being fun to watch.  It looks like Marquette vs. Missouri and MSU vs. New Mexico in the Sweet Sixteen, with a solid Mizzou vs. MSU matchup deciding one of the Final Four.

DK:

Michigan State.  Tom Izzo knew his team would need tournament competition early on, so he scheduled the first games against Carolina and Duke. Although they lost both, this strategy set the bar high for a successful season and number 1 seed. The high seed should propel the Spartan’s safely to the Sweet Sixteen, where I predict they will face a strong Louisville team.

Louisville.  Fresh off a Big East championship win, Louisville is ready to do some damage and prove they can compete with the best. They have more than the required defensive skills but need to get hot behind the arc and faster with transitions if they are going to have any change against Michigan St.

Marquette.  Marquette will outplay Florida in Round 1 and then will be challenged by Murray State in Round 2, however the Golden Eagles’ high scoring Senior duo will push them to victory and a spot in this year’s Sweet Sixteen.

Missouri.  A highly competitive season netted victories versus Kansas and Baylor. With multiple players skilled at the 3-ball it is up to destiny to see how far the deep ball will take them. Faced with a difficult path to the final four, Missouri has to stay focused.

Stay tuned for the Midwest and East regional breakdowns from Swanky’s Sports.

Personal Soundtrack

12 Mar

The Song

Sinful Nature by Bear In Heaven

 

Bear In Heaven love their synthesizers.  Nowhere is that more apparent than on their newest single “Sinful Nature,” which begins with a flickering synth line that swoops in and buzzes around like a low-flying ‘copter behind the band for the rest of the song.  “Sinful Nature” has an expansive feel, as the group confidently takes their time and lets the sound breathe around them.  The result is a subtle build of momentum that feels organic, as if the sound is building upon itself naturally until the synthesizers finally take over in a storm of noise.

The overall sound is unique and subtly engrossing.  Bear In Heaven don’t come out and grab you with catchy hooks or high-energy anthems but they nevertheless draw you in and demand repeated listening.  The  Brooklyn band is riding a lot of buzz into the April release date of their new album, and “Sinful Nature” shows why with it’s assured and excellent weirdness.  Frontman Jon Philpot’s lyrics in “Sinful” offer airy invitations to “get loaded and make some strange things come true.”  The subdued yet hypnotic dance party going on behind him makes it hard to resist.

The Activity

You’re in a strange city and it’s been a long and stressful week.  You don’t really know anyone around here, but the bright lights and pulsing beats of the night offer an opportunity to let loose and get away from the pressure you’ve been dealing with.  The hotel bar looks like a good place to plot your next move, so you head there for the first drink of the night.  As you take a sip, a group of young and sharply dressed foreigners slide on to the bar stools next to you.  You’re feeling particularly outgoing tonight and you strike up a conversation with the friendlier ones of the group.  In heavy accents that sound vaguely Eastern European, they share that they are venturing out for a night of big-city partying and invite you to join them.  You figure why not and follow them to the limo they have waiting outside.

After slipping into a seat between two stoic gentlemen sporting sunglasses, one of them wordlessly offers you a fresh cocktail.  What Is This you yell over the synths clattering from the sound system.  Johan, one of the friendlier ones from before, leans over and explains that it’s a special offering from their home country, and that it’s better than anything you’ve ever had.  But Take It Easy, he cautions before leaning back to enjoy his own drink.  Shrugging, you polish off the drink, which tastes vaguely like vodka, and turn your attention to the beautiful blonde sitting across from you.  The rest of the limo ride passes uneventfully, but as you step out to the first bar, your feet seem to leave the ground.  One of your new stoic friends notices your change in expression and he hands you his sunglasses with an encouraging thumbs up.

You gladly slip on these Party ‘Bans, and the night takes off into a haze of flashing lights and open dance floors.  At one point, you find yourself standing in the open sunroof of the limo – not yelling or waving your arms, just wearing your shades and taking in the night.  You’re not sure how you got there or where the rest of the night will take you, but you’re content just to go with it.

On Bended Knee: A Sweeter Honeymoon

11 Mar

Known as the dessert of the wedding cycle, a honeymoon is a tradition of passion that sends two newlywed souls on an adventure designed to shock the mind with high levels of pleasure. Including access to 24/7 buffet carts, this mandatory post-nuptial journey of temptation shares one other thing with the city of Las Vegas, the need for an unbeatable motto. The famous “What happens here, stay’s here” slogan has helped countless travelers manage the weight of the loose morals they detrimentally buried themselves under the previous evening, highlighting the need for a honeymoon motto that can match your desired level of intensity, relaxation, or sport.

Travel branding is not a new concept, and serious “T-Branders” practice even when they they run local errands. Jess Sullivan, a prize winning bamboo farmer and pioneer of T-Branding, recently stopped by Swanky HQ for an interview. Following his punishment of 200 push-ups for interrupting our weekly hot yoga session, the creative discussion got on track and produced the perfect honeymoon branding strategy.

DS: “T-Branding is a confrontational practice. The few people who do not think you are crazy argue that you cannot brand the idea of a trip, much less an experience that varies from person to person. How do you manage to capture it?”

Jess:  “Whenever and wherever the opportunity exists to further define individuality, especially in a less expressed medium such as Travel, ignoring this urge would be to defy my human nature, something I haven’t done in 43 years. Understanding the tangibility and allure of nature’s weave is the basic framework for succeeding in T-Branding.

DS: “Aren’t vacations supposed to be enjoyable? Why do we need this notion of T-Branding?”

Jess: “I spent 1975-1990 on the open seas, and the only way I have remembered one port town from another is by word associations. I select the finest memories from each destination and patch them together to form a permanent memory. Give it a try, ask me to remember any city and what I did there.”

DS: “OK,  Astoria, Oregon?”

James: “Police chase on the beach, hazy underground adventure and treasure”

DS: “That sounds a little bit like the plot of the movie, The Goonies.

Jess: “Only superficially, I released my Astoria, Oregon T-Brand in 1985, and the producers of Goonies blatantly ripped it off without any recognition towards my original experiences.

DS: “Wow, despite sour grapes with The Goonies, it seems as if T-Branding has worked well for you.  Since Honeymoon season is coming up, do you have any advice for couples seeking out the perfect T-Brand?”

Jess: “T-Branding is about matching your expectations with reality. It is important to start the trip with one motto and then use the positive energy you captured from your experiences to mold your brand into an unforgettable mantra. Regardless of where people visit, the idea is to leverage your T-Brand to amplify enjoyment, capture memories and connect with your new life partner.”

DS: “Jess, we want to thank you for showing up today. Your phenomenal explanation of T-Branding hopefully has tipped the scales in favor of this new and exciting travel novelty.”

Jess: “No problem at all, I love spreading the good word. Visit http://www.T-Brandz.com for my personal branding videos, and other helpful tips.”

Friday Relief

9 Mar

The parallels between urban and agricultural lifestyles are thin, but one thing that holds both communities together is a love for their roots. Our favorite street influence, Kanye West, teams up with a bearded farmer, Zach Galifianakis, in this unforgettable anthem to the land.

Letters From Lyle

8 Mar

All of us feint and parry with new adulthood in different ways, and for some, that involves staying in the warm embrace of the parental household until the mid-20′s.  When you’re finally ready (or when Dad’s tired of you blacking out on his $700 Scotch) it is a momentous occasion, filled with peaks and valleys of emotion.  Our friend Lyle is currently beginning such a move, taking the carpool lane straight from his parent’s basement to his own place.  We asked him to write us with updates and reflections, like a Lewis & Clark of the YA set.  His dispatches are presented here, somewhat uncensored.  This is real.

Your New Life Does Not Come Furnished

Dear Dan,

Well my man, it’s been a pretty hectic couple of weeks.  I finally loaded up the last of my stuff into the Tacoma and made the final crosstown journey to the new pad.  It wasn’t too much work moving.  Dad put down the golf clubs on a Saturday morning to lend a hand, and Mom finally started speaking to me again after my move-out announcement had led to a couple weeks of silent treatment.  They were obviously pretty bummed out to see me go but had to happen, you dig?

Once I got the required Entertainment HQ set up (with the 60” HD monster connected to the PS3, which I got running on a 40Mbps connection that fucking blazes and lets me stream the newest releases before they even hit theaters), I realized that furniture did not come with the new place.  Both Panda and I had not expected this.  [Editor’s Note: Lyle is moving in with his girlfriend.  “Panda” is not a fake name we gave to protect her identity, but in fact a very real pet name that they use for each other.  Details are hazy, but we’ve been able to surmise that this stems from a pot brownie-fueled screening of Kung Fu Panda 2 that resulted in both of them no longer being welcome at the AMC Theaters in downtown Seattle.  We couldn’t make this up.]  This was a pretty stressful situation, so I put in an emergency call to Dad.  He told me to figure it out at Ikea.

Ikea wasn’t too great, to say the least.  To begin with, it had way too many people packed in there.  We were barely able to make it through the Swedish maze and found some couches, a bed frame, and other supplies that would fill out the new spot.  Then, I was under the impression that we would just tell the cashier what we wanted, pay for everything, and then some dudes would deliver the things right to our door.  Instead, I was given a rude surprise when we turned the corner and were faced with that godforsaken warehouse of heavy furniture parts.  I was pretty fried out at that point from the all the commotion of the day, and this last hiccup just kind of pushed me over the edge a bit.

I tried to suck it up for the both of us and gritted my teeth as we somehow got the 500 pounds [Ed.’s Note: Approximation] of Swedish shit onto our cart and moved to the checkout.  There must have been some beads of sweat or maybe a few tears of frustration that resulted from the cart loading, because when we started ringing everything up, the Winner behind the counter gave me a smart little smirk and asked if I needed any “special assistance.”  That was about everything I could take at that point, and I calmly asked if he would like some “special assistance with fucking yourself” and went for his register before Panda restrained me and told me to wait outside.  I pulled the car around and we loaded everything up, but it took me another couple hours before my face returned to its normal color.

So basically that little Ikea story is a good representation of the ish that has been busting my chops during the first two weeks of life on my own.  I’m hoping it will calm down a bit after we get moved in, but I gotta tell you, there’s been times when I’ve regretted leaving the mothership.  In the end though I know it was a long time coming, and I’m loving the new spot, so all the hassle is well worth it.  Now I’ve just got to sustain this excellence on my own and continue living the dream.  I’ll keep you updated, good sir.

FYI – My door is always open, and the Schlitz is always cold.

 

Warmest Regards,

Lyle Gans