Friday, June 15, 2018

Video Of The Week: Death Cab For Cutie

Once indie rock darlings (1997-2003), Death Cab For Cutie hit the mainstream hard with their last independent record to date, Transatlanticism as the 00s went in full swing, scoring hit singles with The Sound Of Settling and Title And Registration, but it wasn't until 2005's Plans (on Atlantic Records) that they went off into the stratosphere with peak-of-songwriting gems like Crooked Teeth, Soul Meets Body and I Will Follow You Into The Dark.

This week, Ben Gibbard's main band released Gold Rush, their best song in over a decade (listen to it twice, it takes a minute to sink in...) and lead-off single off of Thank You For Today, which should come out in August:

The video was directed by Alex Southam, a London-based filmmaker responsible for Kwabs' Fight For Love, Mumford & Sons' Ditmas, Atl J's Tessellate (Clean), Laura Mvula & Nile Rogers' Overcome, Rae Morris' Under The Shadows and Labyrinth Ear's Amber, among others.

Friday, May 25, 2018

NHL Playoffs Predictions 2017-18: The Stanley Cup Championship

A month and a half of playoff hockey took the 16 qualified teams and eliminated 14 of them, leaving us with an unbelievable matchup for the Stanley Cup Final:
Both teams were, essentially, built by GM George McPhee.

The Vegas Golden Knights are an expansion team, so as its main architect, he put every piece in place, but he was also the Washington Capitals' General Manager until 2014, and the likes of goalies Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer, defensemen John Carlson and Dmitri Orlov, and forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos were all acquired via draft, trade, development or signings in his era.

That's pretty much half the team in sheer numbers, but in terms of impact, it's more like over 80% of it. Although many will mostly remember that he was fired for trading an up-and-coming superstar-to-be in Filip Forsberg for an outdated periphery player in Martin Erat for a failed Cup run.

The top two Conn Smythe front runners so far are of course Ovechkin and the Knights' Marc-André Fleury, who has more Cup Finals on his resume than all of the other 45 players involved in the Final put together - all wins since 2009 - but there are other players worth noting.

Kuznetsov has taken Backtrom's place as the Caps' second-best offensive weapon and Lars Eller and Devante Smith-Pelly have found their niche, but the G-Knights' Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Alex Tuch, James Neal et al. have all proven to be too much to handle for such strong teams as the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. Not only are they extremely quick and talented, but they've also proven to be opportunistic, scoring at back-breaking times, such as mere minutes after the opponent scored a tying goal, or at the end or beginning of periods.

Ironically, win or lose, the Golden Knights stand to become the best expansion franchise in NHL history, but the Caps, when they started playing in 1974-75, were the worst team ever,as can be attested by this except from their Wikipedia page:
The Capitals' inaugural season was dreadful, even by expansion standards. They finished with far and away the worst record in the league at 8–67–5. Their 21 points were half that of their expansion brethren, the Kansas City Scouts. The eight wins are the fewest for an NHL team playing at least 70 games, and the .131 winning percentage is still the worst in NHL history. They also set records for most road losses (39 out of 40), most consecutive road losses (37), and most consecutive losses (17).
 So this series will be historic in many ways.

I don't want to jinx it, and I won't be sad if it goes the other way, but I see Vegas taking this one.

Golden Knights in 6.

Friday, May 11, 2018

NHL Playoffs Predictions 2017-18: Round Three

These have been exciting playoffs and the quality of hockey played just seems to get better every round.

Only four teams remain. Here's how they stack up.

For the record, my heart's with Fleury and Ovechkin, but as you'll see, my head doesn't fully agree...

Western Conference

Vegas Golden Knights (2) vs Winnipeg Jets (1)
My heart's with current playoff MVP Marc-André Fleury and the rest of the Golden Knights, but my head says it won't even be close. The way the Jets disposed of the Nashville Predators and dominated the important games tells me these guys are on a mission and virtually unstoppable. I mean, Vegas plays their extremely effective system at 99% capacity with a bunch of guys who rank anywhere between 70 and 87% (with most guys in the late 70s) on the "pure talent" scale, whereas Winnipeg plays their 90% effective system at 90% capacity with guys whose talent level ranks between 79-95% with three full lines of guys over 82%.

They're simply too big, too fast and too good.

Can Fleury steal one? Definitely. Two? Probably. Three? Possibly. Four? C'mon, he's not Patrick Roy, for the simple reason that no current NHL goalie can just decide to be infaillible and deliver on it. On the other side of the ice, Connor Hellebuyck probably had four "let's give 'em four" games to give this postseason, and not only did he already have them, he won a couple of them, too.

Jets in 6.

Eastern Conference

Washington Capitals (2) vs Tampa Bay Lightning (1)
Alex Ovechkin is a man on a mission: he wants that Stanley Cup and nothing will be able to stand in his way. The caveat? The guys who are determined to stop him are Norris nominee Victor Hedman, perennial All-Star and former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, legitimate top-2 defender Anton Stralman, future Norris hoarder Mikhail Sergachev, and finally-in-his-right-spot-as-a-number-five Dan Girardi with Anton Sustr and Braydon Coburn rounding out the D for good measure, and that's without mentioning that the Bolts have two Ovechkins of their own in former 50-goal menace Steven Stamkos and current top-5 world beater Nikita Kucherov while the Caps do not have top-level shut-down defenders.

Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins just won consecutive Stanley Cups with essentially an AHL defence, but they had their entire offense; Washington is playing without Nicklas Backstrom, and should Lars Eller effectively replace him, there's no one to take Eller's 3C spot to shut down Tampa's offense.

Bolts in 7.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

NHL Playoffs Predictions 2017-18: Round Two

 Image result for nhl playoffs round 2 2017-18

Alright, so I disrespected the San Jose Sharks enough to have them sweep the Anaheim Ducks...

Onto Round 2.

Western Conference:

Nashville Predators (1) vs Winnipeg Jets (2) :
The two best teams in the league will duke it out in the second round, with only oen advancing to the Conference Finals - not that that will be a problem. The eight remaining teams are pretty good. This series, featuring the two best defenses in the league, will also pit the regular season's two best goalies in Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck against one another. The former has experience (including medaling on the international stage), the second has youthful exuberance and no fucking fear; Rinne will get the Vezina, but Hellebuyck may very well be the better goalie in this series. Defensively, the Jets' depth is challenged, with Tobais Enstrom not dressing and Tyler Myers playing injured; the Preds' P.K. Subban and the Jets' Dustin Byfuglien are both game-breakers, in every sense of the terms: Subban can make defensive plays, score goals, make a magical pass or drop the puck sending the opponents' quickest forwards on breakaways with equal probabilities (20% chance of each), while Byfuglien takes fewer play-making risks and has 30-40 pounds on Subban, but he also has a temper that could get him suspended for a game or two, so these two even each out, as do Jacob Trouba and Roman Josi, Dmitry Kulikov and Mathias Ekholm, and Myers and Ryan Ellis. The Predators' biggest problem will be dealing with Winnipeg's unusual mix of speed and heaviness. I really like both teams, want both to do well, and the series really is a coin toss. The Jets are better balanced, but the Predators have the best coach.

Nashville in 7.

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs San Jose Sharks (3):
Congratulations, San Jose, you made it farther than I expected and now that Joe Thornton is injured and Patrick Marleau is gone, your choking days may be over. So this won't be a series where you choke, just one where you lose to an expansion team. Vegas' Marc-André Fleury has been the best player in the postseason thus far, and he just beat his current opponent Martin Jones' mentor, the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick. Also, the Sharks' coach, Peter DeBoer, has never won despite being handed some very fine teams in San Jose and New Jersey; Gerard Gallant has provided tiny miracles in the shape of unforeseen division titles with both the Golden Knights and the Florida Panthers. Vegas has the edge.

Vegas in 6.

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs Boston Bruins (2):
At least Boston beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the Bolts are the best team in the East, with MVP candidates at every single position, from Norris candidate Victor Hedman, former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and future Norris hoarder Mikhail Sergachev on defense to Andrei Vasilevskiy in net to an offense comprised of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, super-rookie Brandon Point, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde, and playoff performer Tyler Johnson. The Bs have aging superstars Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask, as well as solid sniper David Pastrnak. It's an uneven fight, save for the Bruins' nastiness (and, let's be honest, character).

Bolts in 6.

Washington Capitals (1) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (WC1):
Go Caps Go. Go Alex Ovechkin Go. Keep in mind, this one's for my heart, not my brain, which is saying "Pittsburgh in 7"; I just really want Ovi's efforts to be rewarded. He deserves team success (and to shut his detractors up). It looks like Braden Holtby is back to his old self, too, which helps.

Caps in 6.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

NHL Playoffs Predictions 2017-18: Round One

The first round of the NHL playoffs have a few interesting match-ups this year, including one in which I dislike both teams playing. There are also many regional rivalries, yet just two Canadian teams.

Here's how I think they'll go.

Western Conference:

Nashville Predators (1) vs Colorado Avalanche (WC2):
The best team in the league, one with no glaring weakness, plays a bunch of kids, no defense and a backup goalie. Simply put, the Avs don't stand a chance. They might win one on the strength of MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon, but a defense made up of Roman Josi, Mathias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Alexei Emelin, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber won't let him dominate like he did in the regular season twice in two weeks. And Jonathan Bernier loses the goalie duel to likely Vezina winner Pekka Rinne before the puck even drops.

Nashville in 5.

Winnipeg Jets (2) vs Minnesota Wild (3):
The Jets are no joke. They have one of the most potent offenses in the league, one of the best defenses, and goalie Connor Hellebuyck is two years ahead of my predictions as a star starter. The team itself may not have won a single playoff game in its current iteration (and that includes a decade as the Atlanta Thrashers, by the way), but they have guys who've had the experience of grinding out a Stanley Cup Final in captain Blake Wheeler and the league's most feared defender Dustin Byfuglien. The Wild have... a fine defense, and the league's most consistent goalie of the past four seasons in Devan Dubnyk. Head coach Bruce Boudreau often looks outmatched in the postseason. Dubnyk might steal one, but he can't steal two from these guys, let alone four.

Jets in 5.

Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs Los Angeles Kings (WC1):
Well, well, well. First off, it looks like the players may indeed have been sick of Darryl Sutter's message, as they bounced back from consecutive postseason misses to face their newest rivals - and the league's biggest surprise. Goalie Jonathan Quick is back to his old self, as is star defenseman Drew Doughty, former captain Dustin Brown is scoring again and Anze Kopitar has posted his best year so far, which will likely earn him a couple of MVP votes. However, the Golden Knights are the better team, way more balanced, better coached, and their net is just as safe with Marc-André Fleury standing between the posts. I could see the Kings playing extremely physically and slowing down the G-Knights, winning a couple of games along the way. This series could cost the Knights a Conference Final, as I see them coming out too battered and bruised to continue much further.

Vegas in 6.

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs San Jose Sharks (3):
If you've read any of these posts from me in the past, you know I trust the Sharks do to one thing right: choke in the postseason. I don't care that they added ball of anger Evander Kane at the trade deadline, he's just one more loser to add to a full stable, effectively taking up Patrick Marleau's spot as the second-line goal scorer who can't carry his team when it needs it. The Ducks have an aggressive and relatively talented defense that will crush San Jose's forwards at every opportunity, and the best goaltending tandem in the postseason in John Gibson and Ryan Miller (although the latter's far removed from his 2009-10 peak form). They also have three lines of 230-pound guys who can score as well as they can decapitate, unless Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler lose their cool, which usually only happens when they lose... which should be starting Game 2 of the second round.

Ducks in 7.

Eastern Conference:

Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs New Jersey Devils (WC2):
Let's make something clear: the Bolts are the second-best team in the league, and the Devils don't belong in the Final 16 - especially not if they're going to start their backup Keith Kincaid over underachieving starter Corey Schneider. Taylor Hall will win the Hart Trophy and might get his team one W, but when the next scorer was 41 points behind him on his team and he's facing a defense comprised of Norris candidate Victor Hedman, former New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh and future Norris hoarder Mikhail Sergachev and a bunch of guys who are just as good as he is on offense (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Yanni Gourde), it's going to spell B-E-A-T-D-O-W-N.

Bolts in 5.

Boston Bruins (2) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (3):
If there was a way to have neither team advance, I would definitely root for that. Yes, the Leafs have talent up front in Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and the rest of the kids, and Frederik Andersen is a fine netminder, but the Bs - against all odds - have still "got it". That means Patrice Bergeron remains among the best and most effective centermen in the world and Brad Marchand is still a pest who is as likely of scoring a hat trick as he is to get suspended for three games for a boneheaded move. But Boston now also has David Pastrnak, an offensive talent they have lacked since the 1988-90 heyday of Cam Neely. The Bruins' defense is still very suspect, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have just won two straight Cups with not just a "no-name" defense, but the worst d-corps of the postseason. And, like the Pens of the past couple of years, the Bs are solid in net with Tuukka Rask.

Bruins in 7.

Washington Capitals (1) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (WC1):
This is an unfair match-up, as neither of these teams deserve to be out in the first round; the Jackets are NOT a Wild Card team by any stretch of the imagination. They have a top-tier coach in John Tortorella, the stingiest goalie in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky (in the regular season, at least), the best young defense in the game headlined by Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and Ryan Murray, and a balanced attack that features a superstar with a chip on his shoulder, Artemi Panarin, as well as 35-goal sniper Cam Atkinson. And yet, the Caps managed to win their division with a team that, on paper, was depleted compared to that of years past; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom are elite forwards, but the defense has lost too many important players to be considered solid, and the team enters the playoffs with their backup, Philipp Grubauer, playing better than their starter, Braden Holtby. The goalie controvery is likely what will once again sink the Caps. I would really like for Ovechkin to get that elusive Cup to shut his critics up, but it won't be this year.

Jackets in 6.

Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs Philadelphia Flyers (3):
Normally, I would call this "Flyers in 7". I would talk about Pittsburgh's shitty defense, their fragile players (chief among them Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby), I would say that the Flyers have a knack for getting under Crosby's skin, and I'd poke fun at them and predict they'll fail, especially against world-class players like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Except that with two back-to-back Cups - both of which came from a wide range of memorable runs from the likes of Fleury, Matt Murray, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and the young guns, despite Crosby's two unwarranted Conn Smythe wins - this team has shown it can and will find ways to win. And against this particular Flyers team, the Pens are much better coached (Mike Sullivan trumps Dave Hakstoll any day of the week), and a team cannot hope to contain Pittsburgh with Brian Elliott in net - not four times in a possible seven-game span, anyway. And those are words I would say even if Malkin hadn't been having an MVP-level season, which he is.

Pens in 6.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Video Of The Week: The Voidz

The things: I hate the 1980s, generally speaking. And Julian Casablancas can usually do no harm.

The former The Strokes singer now has a new band, The Voidz, with whom he continues to explore old 1980s synth music, and I like the dark undertones found in the song QYURRYUS ("curious"), for which he directed this video:

In addition to sounds reminiscent of Indian music (particularly the oeuvre of Bollywood classics like Donga, a.k.a. the "Indian Thriller" movie) and German electro, the video looks like a hair metal clip interspersed with George Michael rainy sexiness, an old Mike Patton/Faith No More look and the feel of a "shred" parody video.

Michael Bolton Signs John Bolton

Growing up in the 1980s, there were two staples of what was then called "Adult Contemporary" music that were lame as fuck and downright tacky: Kenny G and Michael Bolton. Well, John Tesh, too.

But both Bolton and G, as opposed to Tesh, have since embraced that fact and just ran with it, now laughing at that personae and taking it to new levels in a comedic way.

Bolton's been a tad more successful, particularly via his collaboration with The Lonely Island and his Netflix special, and he was on Stephen Colbert's The Late Show this week to show the ridiculousness of John Bolton's past comments:

I never thought I'd say this until that Lonely Island collab, but that fucking Michael Bolton is one hilarious guy who can sing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Many Of Donald Trump's 2017 Twitter Attacks/Rants/Spats

Here was Donald Trump's 2017, essentially, considering he and the Republicans passed just one bill of note:

And that's notwithstanding his Twitter was with North Korean President Kim Jong-un.

I'm sure glad he gets along with everybody, 'cause I'd hate to see a world where he doesn't.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Video Of The Week: Temple Of The Dog

In the beginning, there was Malfunkshun. It was Easter Sunday in Seattle, in 1980. They owed a lot to Kiss and T-Rex as far as sound and look goes, perhaps with a bit more distortion in their guitars.

They played for years with such Seattle luminaries The U-Men (est. 1981), Melvins (1983), Green River (1984) and Soundgarden (1984); they were all friends. So much so that Malfunkshun's lead singer, Andrew Wood, started playing with Green River's Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard and formed Mother Love Bone, then moved in and became roommates with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell. The other half of Green River formed Mudhoney, who went on to have some success of their own.

In 1990, Wood died of a heroin overdose, which deeply affected all of his friends - and Cornell in particular; he wrote twelve moving songs in tribute to his best friend, ten of which made it onto Temple Of The Dog's self-titled record, a project he included Wood's Mother Love Bone bandmates in, including a new singer they'd brought in to front their new unit, then-named Mookie Blaylock in honor of the basketball star but would soon be renamed Pearl Jam, a Chicago-via-San Diego surfer/artist called Eddie VedderSoundgarden's Matt Cameron was on drum duty, having done the same on the Gossard's demo that prompted Vedder to move up North to try out for the new band, and PJ's lead guitarist Mike McCready was invited as well.

It was thus no lie when the Temple Of The Dog CD was adorned with a sticker that read "Pearl Jam + Soundgarden = Temple Of The Dog", and the video for Hunger Strike, which remains one of the best songs of the 1990s, made full use of all members sporting plaid shirts and shorts with underalls. It was directed by Paul Rachman and featured such Pacific Northwest staples as a beach, a "forest" and the West Point Lighthouse:

Cornell didn't actually think much of the song originally, until Vedder came along and added his twist to it:
When we started rehearsing the songs, I had pulled out "Hunger Strike" and I had this feeling it was just kind of gonna be filler, it didn't feel like a real song. Eddie was sitting there waiting for a (Mookie Blaylock) rehearsal and I was singing parts, and he kind of humbly - but with some balls - walked up to the mic and started singing the low parts for me because he saw it was kind of hard (and I was struggling). We got through a couple choruses of him doing that and suddenly the light bulb came on in my head, this guy's voice is amazing for these low parts. History wrote itself after that, (and it) became the single.
In music, history is often made accidentally. Lightning in a bottle.