Archive | May, 2013

My Top 25 Strokes Songs

30 May

I’m going to start this with a disclaimer.  I’m not a music critic, far from it and will never be close to one.  All I know about music is “THAT SOUNDS NICE” and hoping that Amazon gives away free mp3 credit.  So I’m writing this post as a simple fan of a band that I love, the Strokes, and will give you my favorite songs from my perspective.  I have my own criteria.

Anyway, being a fan of the Strokes comes with the same misconceptions as it did back in 2001.  They aren’t quite “hipster” as they were first alleged to be but the initial prejudice of that when they first came to prominence still exists.  After the release of their iconic (yes, I believe that adjective is accurate) debut album “Is This It”, the Strokes kind of gradually faded from the mainstream.  Room on Fire brought excellent tracks, as you will see here, but the album drew some criticism for sounding too much like the debut.  When the Strokes tried to experiment a bit with First Impressions of Earth, they received criticism for changing too much (though the album wasn’t exactly organized).

Critics are tough on the Strokes, ironically considering they were the darlings of the media at first.  The combination of the band’s lack of interest in self-promotion (even with catchy songs, they still had trouble charting on Billboard and earning radio play) and some of the alleged frosty relations between the group made it hard.  The long gap between First Impressions and Angles also hurt their chances at being the band that would “change rock”.

Nonetheless, the Strokes deserve credit for at least helping change rock (along with groups such as the White Stripes, The Killers and lesser-known groups as the Hives) at the beginning of the millennium.  Regardless if you like them or not, the new era of rock evolved from blink-182 inspired pop-punk, Korn/Limp Bizkit-inspired nu metal and post-Nirvana grunge into skinny jeans and a sound akin to 70s garage or 80s synth music (as in the Killers).

I grow tired of the usual Strokes criticism but given the ardent fanbase they kept, I can understand the frustration.  No one likes it when rich kids stay rich, but the Strokes were a band for the better part of three years before Is This It.

With all that said, let’s take a look at my top-25 Strokes songs.

25.  50/50 – Comedown Machine
The Strokes newest album, Comedown Machine, sounds like a sequel from Julian Casablancas’s debut solo album Phrazes for the Young.  50/50 is a bit of a misnomer in the album though and a welcome addition to their discography.  50/50 sounds a bit more like an Arctic Monkeys track but hearing Casablancas’s raw, slightly distorted vocals remind me of Is This It.  50/50 is probably a sample of what critics hoped Room on Fire sounded like.

24. Hawaii – B side to Juicebox
In my opinion, the Strokes don’t have the strongest b-sides but Hawaii is an exception.  With a Beach Boys-esque guitar and Casablancas’s seemingly lazy sounding vocals imitating Brian Wilson; this song is one of the band’s most underrated.  Also, this was one of the debuts of Casablancas’s falsettos though the “ohhhh ohh oh ohhhhhs” aren’t quite the same as One Way Trigger.

23.  Two Kinds of Happiness – Angles
I’m not a fan of U2 at all, but I can’t help but enjoy the third track off Angles even though this song does scream U2.  Nonetheless, this song is a bit different than most of the songs in the Strokes collection.  Actually upon listening to this song now, I can’t help but describe this as if Lou Reed headlined an 80s arena rock band.  Two Kinds of Happiness is one of the only songs on Angles that was written exclusively by Casablancas.

22.  Electricityscape – First Impressions of Earth
Now that two albums have passed FIoE, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the album.  Some of the songs were definitely more “miss” than “hit” but Electricityscape is the main song that bridges the gap between Room on Fire and Angles.  Every year that passes, I like this song more and more.

21.  Machu Picchu – Angles
One of the most “80s” sounding songs the Strokes have in their collection.  This actually might even be too low for this song, as it ranks amongst its best but its my ranking, not yours.  I’m a bit low on Angles compared to the rest of the albums, but Casablancas’s vocals (like the rest of the album recorded separately) works perfect.  

20.  Soma – Is This It
Its a testament to how much I love that Soma is only 20th on my rankings as its a great song.  Soma is one of the Strokes most “literary” songs harkening a Brave New World but also I guess that’s why most people think they are pretentious.  But screw ’em; this is a great song.

19.  Meet Me In The Bathroom – Room on Fire
Even now, I forget that Meet Me In The Bathroom is on Room on Fire as opposed to Is This It.  Some of the album does get criticized for sounding too much like its predecessor and I would assume most would point to this song as being key to that idea.  Nonetheless, Is This It was great as is Meet Me In The Bathroom which is rumored to be about Courtney Love.

18.  Under Control – Room on Fire
One of the songs that I thought the band should’ve released as a single, Under Control is one of the best album tracks the Strokes have ever released.  Casablancas starts really progressing as a songwriter here, and this could be considered the prequel to the next song on this list….

17.  Razorblade – First Impressions of Earth
This is the song that does indeed, have a VERY similar chorus to Mandy by Barry Manilow, but I love it.  Its an awesome anti-love song (“my feelings are more important than yours”) and reminds me of a more polished version of Under Control.  Its humorous, sarcastic and slightly douchey; which sums up the band in interviews and adds to their charm.

16.  All The Time – Comedown Machine
No, this is not one of the Strokes best songs but it means something.  From the video to the song itself, this is almost like a summary of the Strokes career in itself; almost bringing everything full circle.  It sounds the most like a track from “Is This It” and will most likely be the band’s only single from Comedown Machine and their last single under their contract from RCA; one that was 12 years long.  Older Strokes songs are nostalgic in the sense that it sounds like something from somebody else, but this is a nostalgic song that reminds you of the whole career of the band.  

15.  The End Has No End – Room on Fire
Yes, this was actually a single and while I’m not sure if this is more “single-y” than other songs from Room on Fire, its great in its own right.  Valensi and Hammond’s guitar playing are the heroes here though this song is one of the better examples of Casablancas’s strong scream, sounding its closest to Jim Morrison.  

14.  Under Cover Of Darkness – Angles
With a reference to Last Nite (“everybody’s been singing the song for 10 years”), the lyrics of this song reminds me of the Strokes discomfort with each other but were willing to tough it out.  This is, at least according to the Billboard charts, the Strokes third biggest hit and its a catchy pop tune that probably should’ve been bigger than what it was.

13.  Take It Or Leave It – Is This It
When the Strokes began to start touring in the early-2000s, their performances of Take It Or Leave It are some of their best live ones period.  From the performance on Letterman in which Casablancas wipes out to him going in the crowd during their awesome MTV $2 bill concert.  Plays much better as a live song than its recording.

12.  Barely Legal – Is This It
If a song could sum up what I assume the Strokes were like in their beginnings, its this one.  Rambunctious, wild and light-hearted, this is one of the songs that is a must-download if you are either unfamiliar with the Strokes or their non-single tracks.

11.  Someday – Is This It
This is one of the most “fun” songs that the Strokes have to offer.  You can’t help but smile when this song gets played as Casablancas talks about the “good ole’ days”, I can’t help but harken back to this whenever a big change happens in my life.  Great song.

10.  Welcome To Japan – Comedown Machine
It seems like the Strokes could care less about promoting Comedown Machine (or RCA doesn’t care and wants to move in), but if the Strokes were to release another single, this would be it.  One of their best songs, not just in the post-Room on Fire era, but period and it makes the album a lot better than what it is.  

9.  Reptilia – Room on Fire
Yes Guitar Hero made this more famous than Room on Fire did, but this is one of the heaviest Strokes songs and probably one of their best videos too (though not much competition).  Nikolai Fraiture’s bass begins it all and Nick Valensi is key to this record as well.  Great group performance and dynamic in this one.

8.  Is This It – Is This It
How can you not like this song?  Many similar countdowns exclude this song, for some odd reason, but its a great beginning to their debut.  Its the closest thing they had to a “ballad” but its just an excellent, classic Strokes song.

7.  What Ever Happened? – Room on Fire
I don’t think most people would put this on their lists, but this is one of my favorite songs.  How can you not like the song that begins with Casablancas wailing “I wanna be forgotten”, it could be considered how the Strokes felt towards the media in the run-up and post-release of Is This It.  If you asked me to point to a song that summed up the Strokes, I would be tempted to pick this.

6.  You Only Live Once – First Impressions of Earth
Yes, yes, the original YOLO.  But this is the finished product of the demo of “I’ll Try Anything Once” which is also worthy of inclusion on this list but is a totally different song.  This is one of the strongest Strokes singles and a fun song to sing and listen to.  Casablancas sounds crystal clear on this record and again, like most Strokes songs, should’ve been a far bigger hit.

5.  Taken For A Fool – Angles
The Strokes are in their 30s now, but even with lines such as “Monday, Tuesday is my weekend”, you can’t help but admit that they are still cool.  Helped penned by Nick Valensi and drummer Fabrizio Moretti is, in my opinion, their best single in the past 8 years.  Also, their best song.  An earworm, that sounds like a lovechild between Room on Fire, First Impressions of Earth and Phrazes for the Young.  I could gush more about this song, but there’s still more left.

4.  12:51 – Room on Fire
Obviously this is not one of the most favorite songs of the Strokes (they dropped it from the setlist) and with its claps and heavy ripping off of “Just What I Needed”, its more of a prequel to Comedown Machine than a sequel to Is This It.  But, this is my countdown and thus this is one of my favorite songs of all time.  Come back after a night out at college, at 2am or so and play this song and it fits perfectly.  Valensi’s guitar playing, which mimics a synth, is one of my favorite riffs in history which mixes perfect with Hammond Jr.’s chords.  The video, which is a clear allusion to Tron, is also awesome and for some reason fits the song perfectly.  

3.  New York City Cops – Is This It (UK)
After the attacks on September 11th, this song was hastily scrapped from Is This It and thus, is only on the UK version of the album.  Still, this is a staple and also one of the best Strokes songs period; especially when played live.  I linked the performance of this song instead of a recording because its so great and is one of their best televised performances.  Love the little solo by Moretti followed by the throaty scream of Casablancas.  It might not be a masterpiece but its a great little song.

2.  Hard To Explain – Is This It
The first official single by the Strokes has stood the test of time.  Its the perfect introduction that the band made to the music world and its quintessential Strokes.  Its the perfect retro, throwback song that defined the Strokes’s fashion and musical sense.  This might’ve only heightened expectations of Is This It but this ranks as one of the best songs of the millennium for a reason.  It is not hard to explain.

1.   The Modern Age – Is This It
My #1 choice.  This is the perfect performance to a near-perfect song.  Its obviously a vintage sounding track and Casablancas is doing his best Lou Reed impressions.  Lyrically it calls for an older time and seems to refer to Casablancas’s childhood, which makes it even more “vintage”.  What’s even greater about this song is that this really started it all.  Hard To Explain was their official first single but this was off the EP that started the furious bidding war for the band.  Casablancas’s lazy sing-speak of this song only adds to it and their performance at $2 bill linked above shows the perfect “we don’t give a ….” attitude that the Strokes were alleged to have.

Last Nite – Is This It

No, I didn’t forget this, nor do I do not believe its worthy of inclusion on this list as it is one of my favorite Strokes songs.  However, I think this song is worthy of its own category.  I struggle to find if many songs that are more influential than this one in over the past decade or so in music.  From its memorable intro, to the video that even Sum 41 parodied, the riff that they admitted to ripping off of American Girl by Tom Petty, to the iconic throwing of the microphone stand by Julian Casablancas; this is the song that all of you know even if you don’t know the artist.

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What Every Kutztown Student Needs To Do

21 May

So in light of another school year being over, and in light of me having one grand semester at Kutztown University left; I decided to create a list of things that all KU students must do before graduating.  Or since you are going to Kutztown, until you transfer.  So in a few years when people Google “Kutztown” this will pop up.  Got it?

  1. Survive Connections – If you do this, you are well on your way.  If you don’t, then I can’t blame you.
  2. Eat Mama’s at 1am – You’ll be excited.
  3. Eat Mama’s at 1pm – You’ll be disappointed.
  4. Complain about your advisor – Unless you have Dr. Engstrom.
  5. Attempt the BEAST at Spuds – You won’t do this.
  6. Meet a friend who’ll do that – You will do this, most KU students are idiots anyway.  Offer to repay him if they finish.  They will likely respond with “BRAH, I GOT THIS”
  7. Get a surround sound system and blast every lousy Avicii song you can – There is one person per wing who does this, might as well make it you.
  8. Don’t be a CA/RA/DR – ’nuff said.
  9. When it’s warm out, creep on people tanning on the DMZ – Just check your email afterwards to make sure the KU ALERT doesn’t talk about you.
  10. Don’t blame Allentown/Reading for every incident that occurs – Don’t be one of those people who go “ITS THE RIFF RAFF KU LETS IN”
  11. Eat at Snuzzles – Don’t Google it (i.e. you just Googled it) and be rewarded
  12. The Happy Hour Hurricane – Submitted by a friend.  That is, go to Happy Hours at the K’town Pub, Shorty’s, Basin Street and Camillo’s.
  13. Don’t befriend any LAX bro – Regardless of what gender you are, don’t be surprised when anything happens that fits the stereotype.
  14. Go to Pet Therapy Day – If you don’t, you deserve to be investigated by the Department of Justice.
  15. Giggle when you see Virginville is nearby – I still do.
  16. Never call Apex “The Edge” – Don’t be a tool.
  17. Don’t be a tool – Never call Apex “The Edge”
  18. Watch one movie at the Sub – Why not?
  19. Get a pretzel try from Pretzel Revolution – Make sure you call in two weeks in advance.
  20. Eat at all the “name” places – That is, Mark’s, Betty’s, Jaz & Nate’s, Uncle Joe’s
  21. Eat at Uncle Joe’s – That spot is cursed in Kutztown but Uncle Joe’s has the best chance of survival
  22. Grab pancakes from Letterman’s – Notice that I didn’t specify if you could finish it or not.
  23. Get ripped off at the POD – That’ll happen within one day of your freshman year.
  24. Eat a mashed potato box at the AF – ’cause it’s delicious.
  25. Attempt to down a He-Man special at Airport Diner – didn’t do it.
  26. Hype up Bearfest
  27. Be let down by Bearfest
  28. Let the lady ask you for “pickle or no pickle” at Chik-Fil-A before you specify your preference – You’ll thank me later.
  29. Ignore the gay marriage/abortion protestors when they come – Don’t be one of those “free spirited” folks that thinks its activist-y to challenge them.  Ignore them.
  30. Get White Castle – even though its in Allentown, it’s just awesome.
  31. Grab a Sheetz Card – thank me later, out-of-staters.
  32. Go to Sittler’s and enjoy the driving range or mini golf – Because you should.
  33. Never talk about lack of sleep to an art major – They’ll complain worse than Ron Weasley.
  34. Complain about myKU – This needs to be done.
  35. Make friends with Java City ladies – Even if you don’t get food.
  36. Be on the lookout for South Dining Hall’s Birthday Cake ice cream – Its rare.
  37. Go to the Pagoda – A pagoda in Kutztown you ask?  Well, no; it’s kind of in Reading/Wyomissing but it exists.
  38. Take a date to Premise Maid – Guaranteed success.
  39. Jump off Peace Rock – ONLY if you like cliff diving, its by the Cabela’s (think: the NRA’s version of Walmart) in Hamburg.

To be continued.

The End Of My Track Career

5 May

It is hard to believe that there was a time that I was excited about the idea of me typing that title.  There was a time, many many Joes ago, in which the idea of not putting myself through the heat and cold and being able to stay inside sounded amazing.  “You are telling me I DON’T HAVE TO RUN AGAIN! :kicks stereo, Walking on Sunshine plays:”.

But of course when we age, we realize how we were dumbasses in high school or in some cases, the beginning of college.  I never “loved” running per se but I loved the whole team aspect of it.  I also thrived off the competition but when it came to track, it just seemed like such torture.  Lap after lap, without an equalizer such as a hill or even road?  “SCREW THAT”.

However, over the past year or so, I realized how much I loved the sport of track and how my career took a 180 from the time I graduated high school until now.  Of course, if I wasn’t coming back for another season of cross country; this blog post would be filled with much more tears than usual.  But instead, I can be introspective while keeping a rather clear mind as I try to process my thoughts.

Anyway, how do I start something that’s over?  I guess I can tell you how it ended.  I’ve had my own problems with injuries since I was a junior in high school.  I never was a “soft” athlete but my knees and Achilles are sometimes prone to not cooperating with me.  I can go from running day after day after day to not being able to walk for a week sometimes.

This year, I got hurt right after shattering my PR in the 3k in February.  I got hurt right after I essentially got the flu for a week and didn’t fully recover until early April.  The minute I started getting healthy from illness and my workouts started getting more and more closer to my goal; my knee acted up.  At first it was something that hurt during the run but would only REALLY hurt afterwards.  Then it became a pain that didn’t allow me to run for more than a minute.  It became something that permanently ached, one that the most intensive stretching I’ve ever received could not remedy.  Sure, I stayed in shape with the elliptical but man, I could not run.

Then as the month progressed, I started testing out the knee.  Somedays it would god awful, others it would be a breath of fresh air.  Deep down, I knew that there was no way I would be competitive but I strived for one goal.  To wear that Kutztown uniform one more time on the track.  To one more time go through the “get off the bus and collect all the food to bring into the meet” routine.  One more time run a cooldown and cough for the next three hours.  One more time to get on the bus when everyone is hyper and then pass out until dinner and then reawaken one more time.

All of those little things man, that’s what I wanted.  Was it closure I was looking for?  No.  My goals that I strived for every year since my freshman year were not coming to fruition.  I wasn’t getting that “fairytale ending” that most seniors strive for.  That extra “mojo” wasn’t going to put me over the edge.  I was just looking for an excuse.  An excuse to just go through the motions one more time and to just race my guts out until I collapsed.  In other words, I wanted a time machine.

But suddenly, a “miracle” was happening.  I was doing workouts, in not great shape at all, but hitting times that I would hit when I was peaking.  I didn’t feel great doing it but damn, I was actually hitting the goal times.  Suddenly I had an idea that maybe I can race just one more time and maybe actually pull of a halfway decent performance.

Instead, I wasn’t taken to the next meet.  Not because of fault of myself or my coaches, but for simple timing.  Its the week before conferences and even I agree that the focus should be on making sure everyone is sharp, not giving someone a little sendoff.  For about thirty minutes, I was content with everything and then it kind of hit me later on.

I was done.

As of right now, my career of track is nothing but a memory.  There will be no more goals to obtain.  There will be no more times to try and qualify or PR.  Sure I will run afterwards but does anyone expect a mediocre post-graduate athlete to be in better shape than they were in the middle of their college training?  I’m not someone that can handle running slower than my old self and the idea of competing and not being successful compared to years past, would irritate me.

As of right now, I will not have an injury again because of track.  I will not have to wake up early for a meet that I am competing in.  I will no longer cram into the Golden Bear Room or hear Coach start a talk about our goals for the season.  I will not hear a Coach White speech or give a few people “one clap” for hitting the qualifying standard.  I will no longer see Eli Weeks or Jon Byrne run an Adelphi.  I will no longer have stories to tell of years past as the current junior class prepares to be the “keepers of the tales”.  I will no longer hear Coach’s voice crack when someone starts kicking ass on the track.  I will no longer try to keep fast food purchases to under $8.  I will no longer show off to all the sprinters by bench pressing 90 pounds nor will I hang around after practice to see how the middle distance guys do in their workout.

I will no longer go to meets and freak out while waiting for the last race.  I will no longer hang by the Steeple pit and instead offer encouragement rather than hope people fall.  I will no longer sit in the heat waiting for the hammer toss to be completed and never knowing whether to cheer or not cheer.  I will no longer ask a random teammate “how’d ya do today” to hear how my teammates are doing.  I will no longer eagerly check DirectAthletics to see the Performance List.

This is what I ended up missing.  All of these things are going to be removed from my life in some capacity.  I will be nothing but a memory that fades into someone people don’t talk about anymore.

That’s what we all crave for deep down.  Everyone wants to be an All-American or an award winner but we know the likelihood of that deep down.  We know that no one really cares about the stories we say about people who long graduated.  All we want for is to be with the team again because you miss all of that the moment its gone.  Trust me, hearing your spikes hit cement will make you misty-eyed instead of rolling-eyed.  You take it for granted but its going to be gone one day.

Sports are like that.  There’s always a new generation and you can’t stay in the way of it no longer how long you wait.  Those freshmen will grow up to be mature….ish….and with any luck, they’ll tell a story about you that lives on.  That’s what we want though.  Once we are gone, we never want to REALLY go away.  We want to be there in spirit, via FB status or a hashtag.  We want to be revered come Alumni Weekends and have some sort of legacy.

I’ve had a hard time coming to grips with the end of my career.  Some have asked me on why I haven’t gone to many of the meets this year.  The honest answer is a selfish one…I couldn’t possibly stomach to be there.  It’s horrifically selfish and the antithesis to what makes a captain but when I would be at a meet hurt or whatever, I could always think “get ’em next year!”…now that’s not happening.  I apologize to you all, seriously, but I will be there to see the final PSACs of the Kutztown Golden Bears that I am associated with.

But boy, will I miss it once that final 4×4 is done.