Archive for December 2006

College Basketball- Preseason Roundup

December 26, 2006

TOP 25 OF THE MATTY:

  1. UCLA (11-0) The Bruins aren’t the most talented team, but right now they are playing together better than anyone behind great coaching and intense defense.
  2. North Carolina (10-1) Watching the UNC-Ohio State game, I was amazed by how much more athletic these teams seemed than anyone else I have seen this year. The loss to Gonzaga is in the books, but will they lose again? The freshman contingent is growing up fast.
  3. Florida (11-2) The Gators will benefit from the early losses they suffered and looked like the champions they are against Ohio State. Pound for pound, this is still the best team in the country talent-wise, but will they regain that spark that led them to the title last season?
  4. Kansas (10-2) The overtime win over Florida showed the Jayhawks at their best, and at that level they can beat anyone. Losses to Oral Roberts and DePaul showed a different side. Which will prevail?
  5. Ohio State (10-2) With Greg Oden healthy, this might be the best team in America, but they were outmatched from start to finish by the defending champs.
  6. Arizona (9-1) The Wildcats are a serious sleeper to win it all. They’ve been hot since losing the season opener to Virginia, and beat a talented Memphis team last week.
  7. Wisconsin (12-1) A loss to respectable Missouri State notwithstanding, the Badgers are proving that they and Ohio State are on another level compared with the rest of the Big Ten. The win at Marquette was impressive.
  8. Duke (11-1) The Blue Devils haven’t looked good, and would have lost to my Hoosiers easily if IU could have hit any free throws in that two point loss. Nevertheless, they keep finding ways to win. We’ll see how they fare against North Carolina though…
  9. Alabama (11-1) The Tide are loaded with talent in the backcourt and up front, but struggled in a loss to Notre Dame. I’m still waiting for them to grab a marquee win, but that will come in time.
  10. Washington (10-1) The Huskies are a big reason why a lot of people think the Pac-10 is the best conference in basketball. When was the last time that was the case?
  11. Butler (12-1) Preseason NIT champs beat in-state rivals Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue, but missed out on an unquestioned state championship due to a confusing loss to Indiana State. Wins over Tennessee and Gonzaga look good as well.
  12. Marquette (12-2) Wins at Duke and against Texas Tech keep Marquette right in the thick of things. The loss to a talented Wisconsin team can be appreciated, but what happened against North Dakota State? Throw that one out.
  13. Connecticut (10-0) It frustrates me that a team with UConn’s prowess refuses to schedule any meaningful preseason games. Until they beat a team that has any hope of making the tournament, the Huskies won’t get any top ten love from me.
  14. Witchita State (8-1) If last year’s tournament run wasn’t proof enough of The Shockers’ talent, big preseason wins at LSU and at Syracuse should be. A loss to New Mexico over the Holiday weekend can be forgiven.
  15. LSU (7-3)  The Tigers struggled a bit early, although losses to Texas, Witchita State and Washington are all respectable. Marquee win over Texas A & M stands alone, and the Tigers are finding out how much they miss Tyrus Thomas and his athleticism, but these holes should be filled come March.
  16. Texas A & M (9-2) Played UCLA as tough as anyone, but I’m still waiting for that big win, as the Aggies fell short to tournament nemesis LSU as well.
  17. Oklahoma State (12-1) The Cowboys have overachieved a bit, winning important games against Pittsburgh, Missouri State and Syracuse. The lone loss at Tennessee isn’t anything to be ashamed of.
  18. Pittsburgh (10-2) The Panthers should rebound in the Big East season, but had to be a little overrated coming into this year. Big win over Florida State looks better after the Noles knocked off Florida, and losses to Wisconsin and Oklahoma State make sense enough.
  19. Tennessee (10-2) The Vols’ only losses came in the Preseason NIT to top ten teams Butler and UNC. Since then they’ve played well against a tough schedule, winning against Memphis, Oklahoma State and Texas.
  20. Memphis (9-3) The Tigers have looked pretty good playing a fairly difficult schedule. A win over Kentucky remains the biggest accomplishment.
  21. Oregon (10-0) Surprising win over Georgetown remains lone accomplishment, aside from not losing to a slough of inferior opponents.
  22. Gonzaga (9-4) The only four loss team on the list has played the nation’s toughest schedule to date, and have a win over North Carolina to their credit.
  23. Florida State (9-2) A scary team capable of big things, the Seminoles make the list after a shocking early season upset of defending champ and cross-town rival Florida.
  24. Kentucky (8-3) The Cats haven’t been pretty, but this team is going to win some games.
  25. Indiana (8-3) : My Hoosiers are holding steady here after steadily improving and losing three narrow games to three teams ahead of them on this list by a combined 12 points. A convincing win over a Southern Illinois team that made my preseason Top 16 merits placement here.

Teams like Air Force, Nevada and Clemson have shot up the coaches poll for beating nobodies. These teams have to beat someone before they earn my respect, I won’t rank Air Force #16 for doing nothing…

Others receiving votes: Notre Dame, Maryland, Michgan State, Texas, Missouri State

The Top Ten Albums of 2006

December 13, 2006

Looking back on the year of 2006 music, I won’t be able to forget some of the disappointments from proven standouts like The Flaming Lips, Built to Spill, The Strokes and The Walkmen which all made the first half of this year’s music scene seem quite underwhelming. However, the second half of the year changed that, with some special help from a certain Tuesday in September. By the time December was here, we had been blessed by solid efforts from some promising newcomers, witnessed preferable changes in style and general improvement from artists that have shown promise in previous years, and also saw our faith in the longevity of old-time favorites gain a new sense of hopefulness. Through the middle of December, these were my favorite albums of the year (in order, of course).

JUST MISSING THE TOP 10:

#15: The Futureheads/ News and Tributes- The British punk-rock group followed up their self-titled debut with an album that demonstrated a lot of improvement, adding more depth musically and not simply settling for an album full of two minute punk tracks. Check out “Burnt” for proof.

#14: Mylo/ Destroy Rock and Roll- In a year where we saw electronic music take a bit of a step to the background, this collection of samples a la The Avalanches added an 80s feel that made this album one of the year’s catchiest dance collections.

#13: Destroyer/ Destroyer’s Rubies- I still prefer leadman Dan Bejar with the massive collective The New Pornographers, but this album showcased some of his own unique Dylan-esque vocals and songwriting capabilities. “Your Blood” was a great late summer anthem.

#12: Danielson/ Ships– In making one of the year’s most delightfully unaccessible albums, leadman Daniel Smith’s new project certainly didn’t lack any intensity, mixing folkiness with opera rock in a style all his own.

#11: The Rapture/ Pieces of the People We Love- In creating a dancier, more upbeat sophomore album, it is safe to say that The Rapture didn’t match the complexity of their debut Echoes, one of the best albums of the decade. Instead, they wisely chose not to take themselves too seriously, and the result is a catchy party album for the ages.

THE TOP TEN

#10: Liars/ Drum’s Not Dead

After spending the early part of the decade as a louder part of the now defunct dance rock movement, Liars return with a superb concept album that is in a genre all its own. With Drum’s Not Dead, Liars have created perhaps the darkest album that I can remember since Massive Attack’s epic Mezzanine. Complete with chanting, tribal drumming and generally scary musical effects, this is not an album for everyone. Picture Animal Collective leading a ritualistic ceremony on the eve of the apocalypse, and you’ll get the idea.

Actually, I don’t mean to convey that the album is evil, or more specifically, satanic in any way, shape, or form; it is just cohesively, consistently and beautifully dark. As stated above, this is not a collection of songs as much as an album built on concept. The individual tracks certainly do not stand alone but instead blend as if recorded altogether in one take. The song titles themselves seem to make this clear, as all of them are essentially complete nonsense. What on earth is Mt. Heart Attack?

Given the nature of the album, it is difficult to comment on individual songs, but I will do my best. Opener “Mt. Heart Attack” opens with the soft, eerie tribal drumming elements that really set the tone for the album, eventually building into the chaotic “Let’s Not Wrestle Now Mt. Heart Attack”, complete with perfectly discordant melodies. “A Visit From Drum” is a brilliant, ritualistic midnight campfire chant while the terrifying opening drum beats of “The Drum and the Uncomfortable Can” lead into feedback-laden electric guitar and more familiar vocal work. I saw Liars open a set with this track over the summer and I was completely captivated–not to mention moderately terrified.

Adding to the album’s complexity are tracks like “Drum Gets a Glimpse” and the impressive closer “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack”, as Liars really step outside their comfort zone, providing some of the album’s strongest moments with soft, well-orchestrated harmonies that are painfully beautiful. On “The Wrong Coat For You Mt. Heart Attack”, more harmonies and a simple but decidedly dark electric keyboard line provide the album’s eeriest moment.

This is not an album for a bright sunny day and I imagine it playing more effectively in a dungeon or, more realistically, at dusk. It is mood music to be sure, heavily instrumental and far from accesible to the average ear, although I cannot stress enough how perfectly Drum’s Not Dead works as a hypnotic blend of musical genius. In any event, it is an innovative achievement for a band that knew it had more up its sleeve than punky dance rock. The very sounds of the vocals are enough to send chills up anyone’s spine, and using musical experimentation that veers toward post-rockiness allowed for a level of creativity that I couldn’t have imagined these maniacs were capable of.

#9: Love Is All/ Nine Times That Same Song

On first listen, I found this poppy, punky indie rock album to sound like a collection of indescernable noise. However, repeated listens brought out a certain underlying charm from this Swedish band. Sure, lead singer Josephine Olausson’s high pitched, decidedly foreign voice takes some getting used to, but in the end this is a rocky, upbeat album with its fair share of highlights.

The album opens with a monotonous chant of “One more time!” before catchy guitar riffs, horns and unintelligable lyrics come to the forefront as Olausson shrieks “Talk Talk Talk Talk” repeatedly. From the opening track, the intensity of the music becomes evident. On the dancier album highlight “Ageing Had Never Been His Friend”, Love Is All uses another catchy guitar riff reminiscent of beachy 60’s rock and combines it with bigger beats, an effective sax line and a smart key change on the chorus as Olausson attempts to keep her love “fresh and young.”

The band showcases its diversity on softer, sweeter tracks like “Turn the Radio Off”, “Felt Tip” and “Turn the TV Off”, all of which demonstrate the heartache and time spent getting over a lost love. As a whole, the album centers around this common, universal theme, just as the band’s name would have you believe. These slower tracks provide a nice change of pace from the intensity of their surroundings.

On standout “Busy Doing Nothing”, Love Is All takes it up a notch, with squealing electric guitar and heavy dance bass line as Olausson laments, “Five movie marathons! Nine times that same song!” As with much of the album, Olausson is really not singing, but just yelling the lyrics over impressivley catchy music. The theme of love’s struggles is well intertwined into the comedic singalong “Make Out Fall Out Make Up,” the title of which speaks for itself and in which Olausson decides somewhat optimistically, “I think I’ll spend all day in bed.”

The same catchy vintage guitar riffs are present on album closer “Trying Way Too Hard,” an action-packed two minute ditty that couldn’t be titled any better or placed more perfectly. The album’s intensity never takes itself too seriously, because when it comes to love, sometimes there isn’t much more you can do than take what comes your way with a grain of salt, and not try too hard.

#8: The Hold Steady/ Boys and Girls in America

For one, I grew tired of The Hold Steady’s debut album Seperation Sunday (7.9. 2005) upon repeated listens. Sure, it was great party music with fun guitar riffs and leadman Craig Finn drunk-talking well-crafted party lyrics. That album, as fun as it was, lacked lyrical depth and feeling and grew redundant as it progressed. A drunk guy talking over great guitar riffs is fun enough, but after three or four songs I required a bit more. On their sophomore effort Boys and Girls in America, references to drinking, getting high, and getting laid are still present with often hilarious frequency, but are strengthened with a bittersweet reminiscence that adds depth to the lyrics.

Opener “Stuck Between Stations” opens with a classic American rock-n-roll sound complete with pounding drums, electric guitar riffs, piano, and, of course, that talking voice. This track is one of the album’s strongest and immediately captures attention, as intensity builds into the chorus. The next three tracks progress with a similar rocky feel, highlighted by the rocky “Hot Soft Light”, a subtler but no less hard-core American rock song.

In “Chips Ahoy”, Finn sings of a week of partying following a winning day at the racetracks. “Party Pit” tells the story of a drunken romp at a familiar gathering, where Finn recalls, “Well I’m pretty sure we kissed…Can I walk around and drink some more?” And the triumphant standout ”Massive Nights” recalls previous evenings of good ole debauchery.

I know what you’re thinking. Anybody can come up with a great guitar riff and mumble unintelligable lyrics about how much they love to party. I would agree with you, except that this album eventually amounts to much more. Finn begins to attempt vocals this time around on prettier, painful tracks such as “Citrus, ” where Finn sings, “Lost in fog and love and faithless fear/ I’ve had kisses that made Judus seem sincere.” Bittersweet love ballad “First Night” enters new musical territory for the band, as Finn reminisces on a first meeting with a long lost love. Probably the best song on the album, “First Night” evokes goosebumps. Wait a second, isn’t this The Hold Steady? Finn demonstates some vocal range on this one while remembering the girl that “Slept like she’d never been scared.” And album closer “Southtown Girls” finishes in the same manner that Boys and Girls in America opens, with classic American-roots rock and catchy guitar riffs.

Overall, this is not an album that I would argue will change the world of music with its innovation, but I doubt that The Hold Steady would have it any other way. As somewhat of a sentimental person, I connected with this album, recalling all of the great times I had back in those summers where there was nothing to worry about and nothing to do other than the things Finn sings about on these tracks. The songs are fun, yes, but there is an underlying sadness that the times of these tales have long passed and are now gone forever, only existing in a memory. A great escape for worthy recollections to be sure, and a decidedly impressive step up musically, lyrically and conceptually from their still very listenable debut.

#7: Junior Boys/ So This Is Goodbye

Among others, one element of musical creativity that 2006 was lacking was a great electronic album. Mylo, Thom Yorke and The Knife all provided above average attempts at this broad genre, but not until So This Is Goodbye did the year see its first truly classic electronic example.

Junior Boys derive their style from smooth, well-integrated electropop with a bit of early 80s pop synth that approaches but never quite reaches melancholy. What seperates their sound from other successful electropop acts such as the Postal Service and the Notwist is an underlying continuity of sound that is almost angelic in nature. This is the ultimate “chill” album, and this will turn off some, but on the whole, the album works incredibly well as a sum of its parts.

The songs blend together quite well, from the opening synthesizers on the dancier ”Double Shadow” all the way through the album’s prettiest track, brilliantly placed closer “FM”, which plays like a soft lullaby. Highlights in between include standout “Count Souvenirs”, where bittersweet synth and minor keys showcase some of vocalist Jeremy Greenspan’s best work. The first single, “In The Morning” follows, with probably the album’s most upbeat electricity. Complete with electronic keyboards, peppy beats and a killer synthesized riff, the track rocks but still never comes anywhere near “cheery”.

The title track doesn’t disappoint either, rolling steadily along in the darkness with some of the best lyrical work seen here. The track that follows is “Like A Child”, which begins with an immediately enthralling stand-alone beat that continues to pick up all of its more complex instrumental pieces one at a time. This particular track demonstrates Junior Boys at their most atmospheric, and might be my all around favorite song on the album.

Some will argue that this album is too soft or too depressing to be enjoyed, especially towards the end, but they are the ones who have trouble seperating what is beautiful from what is simply bland and melancholy. What makes this album work so well is that the songs can play so softly together without ever seeming like a downer. This is certainly mood music on the surface, but beneath, repeated listens will reveal much more. With their sophomore album, Junior Boys have nearly perfected their art.

#6: Yo La Tengo/ I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

This Hoboken New Jersey duo has been around since the early 1990s, and with this album have seemingly delivered a collection of experiments that fail to blend together with any continuity but meanwhile allow for creativity that we have never seen from this accomplished band. I actually prefer it slightly to their first release of this decade, the more cohesive but less exciting And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (8.6/10).

This is not to say that I Am Not Afraid does not have its own re-emerging themes. For one, Yo La Tengo exibits piano and horn based elements in a manner that we have never seen, and these are some of the album’s most memorable tracks. The poppy “Beanbag Chair” brings images of Belle and Sebastian, and sets the tone early in the album for a level of cheeriness and cuddliness that most had forgotten after some of the admittedly brilliant but often drab tunes of recent releases. Never has Yo La Tengo been as bright and cheery as on the piano-heavy sing along “Mr. Tough” which repeats as carefree as can be, “And we’ll forget about our problems if only for a little while.” The sweet, simple honest lyrics of “Sometimes I Don’t Get You” are complemented perfectly by the added piano element and “The Weakest Part” takes cuddly to a new level with softly grinding piano chords in the album’s prettiest arrangement.

Aside from these four piano-heavy tracks, nothing sounds even remotely the same, and at times it almost seems as though the stronger and weaker tracks alternate. Admittedly, the album is probably overlong at fifteen tracks, especially with two of them coming in around the ten minute mark. Nevertheless, with half of these songs extremely strong, that still makes for quite an album.

Unconventional opener “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” begins with a thunderous bassline that is repeated through the duration of the ten minute song backed by horns, electric guitar feedback and softened vocals. “The Race Is On Again” is probably the most familiar sounding song on the album, with soft, rolling guitars and Simon and Garfunkel-eque minor chord shifts. To add to the diversity of the conglomeration of material, Yo La Tengo gets wildly rocky towards the end of the album with “I Should Have Known Better” and “Watch Out For Me Ronnie.” The former shows late 1960s rock characteristics backed by feedback-laden 7th inning stretch organ sounds, while the latter exhibts energetic, intense garage rock fit for the White Stripes.

On the whole, this album is far from perfect, but in an odd way that is what makes it as good as it is. At times it almost seems like these guys just decided to record every different song in every different way that they had ever wanted to, with reckless disregard for the consequences. Of course, there are moments where these experiments fall short (although never completely flat), but the moments where they succeed provide us with, amazingly and impressively, some of Yo La Tengo’s greatest work to date.

#5: Tapes’ N Tapes/ The Loon

One of this year’s most surprisingly enjoyable indie rock albums came from this Minneapolis band on their debut. The Loon exhibits raw energy, focusing more on acosutic guitar strums than electric guitar riffs. The result is a rough-edged rock sound backed by drawling, often unintelligable lyrics.

Rocky opener “Just Drums” is immediately enticing, as rolling drums and catchy guitar work progress nicely as leadman Josh Grier snarls over it all. I remember seeing Tapes’ N Tapes perform this summer, and when they opened with this track, I was astounded by how crisp it sounded. “The Iliad” is a simpler, foot-stomping tune while highlight “Insistor” showcases a grinding rhythm into the building, anthemic chorus.

The Loon gains complexity from tracks such as “In Houston” and “10 Gallon Ascots”, both of which mix initially soft melodies with surprising bursts of energy. The former combines xylophone notes with shrieking electric guitar and drumming, while the latter integrates a smooth melody with a pounding chant-chorus that provides the album’s loudest moments. “Manitoba” follows in similar fashion with a simple, smooth, warm melody that never wavers and eventually builds into a pounding refrain complete with chaotic drumming and synthesized squeals.

But for all of the intrigue of these tracks, nothing compares to album centerpiece “Cowbell”, one of my favorite single songs of the year. The hard-core guitar strum begins with Grier trash-talking, “I’ve been a better lover with your mother” and rolls along effortlessly and recklessly for two and a half minutes that are over way too quickly. The album concludes on its rockiest note with more riff action present on the anthemic “Jackov’s Suite.”

On the whole, the album is rough around the edges and borders on bluesy roots rock at times, but turned out as well as I can imagine Tapes N Tapes hoped it would. Inconsisent at times, yes, but more often than not The Loon is a huge success, complete with in-your-face, raw guitar strumming and a carefree, unique vocal style. This is probably the best pure example of simple, old-fashioned rock music this year, and I am anxious to see what else these guys have up their sleeves.

#4: Band of Horses/ Everything All The Time

The best debut album of the year also comes from the new band with the best name. On Everything All The Time, Band of Horses combine atmospheric, echoey vocals reminiscent of My Morning Jacket with sweeping guitar work to create a collection of songs worthy of high praise. The tracks exert a great deal of emotion both lyrically and musically, and leadman Ben Bridwell’s unique vocal wails combine beautifully to create a collection of powerful, yet incredibly pretty tunes dispersed among jammier numbers in addition to soft lullaby tracks.

Band of Horses demonstrate the range of their talents by doing just that–dispersion. They achieve nearly perfect balance, as they don’t let the album get too gloomy, even though the darker tracks arguably show more depth and emotion. After the bittersweet, jangly opener eloquently titled “The First Song”, the album goes right into the pounding “Wicked Gil,” a catchier, poppier example not without the same atmospheric qualities that run rampant throughout the album. The simpler “Our Swords” provides a nice rolling rhythm in its two and a half minutes to set the stage for the album’s finest moment.

That moment, of course, is the entire duration of the epic “The Funeral”. Bridwell begins to sing softly before roaring guitars and pounding drums enter as he howls, “At every occasion I’ll be ready for a funeral.” This is one of those songs that exudes an amount of emotion that is difficult to bear. Other album highlights follow, including the pleasantly upbeat “Weed Party,” which catches Band of Horses in their most rocky, almost home-on-the-rangey form.

Rolling guitars open the album centerpiece “The Great Salt Lake,” which initially seems to draw influence from the Beach Boys. That is before the album’s most transcendant guitar line sails over the chorus and builds into an anthemic crescendo with that same echoing vocal that becomes so addictive as the album progresses. One of my personal favorites is the penultimate track “Monsters,” which opens with twangy country guitar behind Bridwell delivering lyrics like a man who has much to share about life. As the song picks up speed, all of the elements come crashing in marvelously as the album’s greatest lyric, “If I am lost, it’s only for a little while” is wailed with unparalleled hopefulness.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have been sorry to see the album go off on that note, but Band of Horses has another trick up their sleeve, and they choose to end their masterpiece with the softer, more harmonic “St. Augustine” which seems to kiss us goodnight. As a whole, what holds Everything All The Time together so well is its impressive balance. With undeniable elements of country and moments of gloom not shy, this is an album that could have quickly put me to sleep. Instead, Band of Horses created an album that packs emotion balanced by elements of both sadness and hope, all the while demonstrating a musical range that I look forward to enjoying for many years to come.

#3: Belle and Sebastian/ The Life Pursuit

These relative old-timers refined their style and nearly matched some of their greatest work with the release of the nicely integrated The Life Pursuit. More complex than 2003’s overly cheery Dear Catastrophe Waitress (8.0)while working in new elements of piano and jazziness, this work was pretty much the lone bright spot of the early part of the year. The album is still incredibly bright, but adds a bittersweet element while focusing on more personal issues, especially faith and the loss of youth.

The Life Pursuit is incredibly solid from start to finish, but begins on an immediately engaging note. Opener “Act of the Apostle” struck me from first listen as innovative, with repetitive minor piano chords that are uncharacteristic of this band combined with impressive tone shifts from foreboding to cheerful. The next track is “Another Sunny Day”, easily the album’s standout, combining the band’s classic cheeriness with a beautiful touch of bittersweet remorse. More than ten years into their career and on their sixth full-length, I am not sure that Belle and Sebastian has ever written a better song.

The album continues on in an upbeat manner, with groovy beats moving “White Collar Boy” along convincingly and twangy notes dominating the accesible “The Blues are Still Blue.” These aren’t my favorite tracks, but manage to carry the album along nicely. The only true resemlance of the band’s prior form comes on the soft, sweet “Dress Up In You”, which progresses with the oxymoron of complex simplicity that has made this band great for over a decade.

Belle and Sebastian really step out of the box musically on jumpy, catchy biographical tracks like “Sukie In The Graveyard” and the bright but oddly atmospheric “Song For Sunshine”, both of which shine on this work. The last few tracks on this album really capture the magic, turning the foreboding elements into optimism on the hopeful “To Be Myself Completely,” which sounds oddly like some of R.E.M.’s poppier work. First single “Funny Little Frog” seems bright as well, a silly love song demonstrating a similar reliance on piano. It doesn’t get any more carefree or fun for Belle and Sebastian than on the resolving “For The Price of a Cup of Tea”, a cheery, nonchalant ditty that assures us that everything is going to be fine.

The Life Pursuit builds in an intersting manner, as it begins questioning life with uncertaintly and seemingly becomes more optimistic towards its conclusion. This is certainly an album that tells a story, the writers of which undeniably understood the importance of ordering the tracks. Having stated that, Belle and Sebastian throw us another loop. Instead of finishing the album on an up note as its progression would indicate, The Life Pursuit follows the previously mentioned track, which would have been a great closer in its own right, with the attractive but bittersweet and uncertain “Mornington Crescent.” Perhaps this is an even better ending, as the band demonstrates that even a life filled with thoughtfulness and cheer can never be without uncertainty.

#2: The Decemberists/ The Crane Wife

Colin Meloy has already established himself as one of America’s best pure up-and-coming songwriters in the company of Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Badly Drawn Boy. On this, their fourth album, The Decemberists step up to the big leagues, popping out of the indie rock doldrums and signing with prestigious Capitol Records. How would the music adjust fans wonder? Thankfully, Meloy and company used this promotion as an excuse to upgrade not only their salaries but their musical and lyrical determination as well. This is easily their best album to date, and I say that having loved last year’s Picaresque (8.7) like it was family.

There is an element of tightness to this album in regards to the way in which it is wound. The Decemberists don’t forgo their psychedelic folk-rock backbone on this effort, but rather use it as layering for musical experimentation and expansion. The 12-minute second track “The Island” is actually three songs blended with perfect regard for tone. Beginning with the foreboding “Come and See”, the epic evolves into the more upbeat yet terrifying “The Landlord’s Daughter”, an intense rape tale with electronic keyboards and Meloy wailing. The climax of this song is absolutely possessive. Wow. After going through that, the track cools off into sad acoustic guitar ballad “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning”, as Meloy pleads, “Go to sleep now, little ugly/ Go to sleep now, little fool.” I’m pretty convinced that as 12-minute folk-rock tracks go, this one couldn’t be any more perfect.

Innovation doesn’t stop after the epic, as standout ”The Perfect Crime #2″ exhbits upbeat bluesey notes that work incredibly well as the band enters completely new territory musically and Meloy sings of thievery and murder. Tales of war aren’t exactly new territory for The Decemberists, but this time around they dive deeper and more specifically into their story-telling and musical choices. The slowly progressing, softly pounding “When The War Came” would play perfectly over a field of wounded and dead bodies from the front line, as Meloy professes “When the war came, the war came hard.” With almost Led Zepplin-esque characteristics and unprecedented darkness, this track rolls on into completely new musically territory as Meloy moans “With all the grain of Babylon!” into the finish. Scary stuff. Cool.

War tales aren’t isolated to this track, however. In possibly the greatest song they have ever written, the Decemberists really rock on “Yankee Bayonet”, as Meloy and guest singer Laura Veirs rotate verses as a pregnant wife and a probably dead civil war soldier/ husband. The track is absolutely incredible musically, lyrically and emotionally, and is probably the best single song of 2006. Even the familiar sounding tracks, such as opener “The Crane Wife 3″ and the amazing “Summersong” soar on this effort. “O Valenica” has a tough act to follow after “Yankee Bayonet”, but provides familiar lyrics in regard to tragic love.

The slowly building “The Crane Wife 1 and 2″ works as another epic, layered with more electronic keyboards before moving into its softer, beautiful and apologetic second part. The anthemic, optimistic ”Sons and Daughters” is perfectly placed as the closer, sounding off with Meloy singing the inexplicably warm lyrics, “We’ll build our homes of aluminum/ We’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon/ Here all the bombs fade away.”

I still have no idea what a Crane Wife actually is, but I have a feeling we all need to have one.

#1: TV on the Radio/ Return To Cookie Mountain

2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (8.6/10) was enjoyable enough of an album for a band’s first attempt at a full length, but many considered it a bit of a let down after TV on the Radio’s Young Liars EP had shown so much promise the year before. While certainly innovative and interesting with unique style, Blood Thirsty Babes seemed to drag at points. With their sophomore effort Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio has succeeded in making the album that we all knew that they were capable of after Young Liars, and it is the best album released in 2006.

On the whole, the album is much more crisp and a bit rockier than its predecessors with the addition of actual drums. Opener “I Was A Lover” is a much more immediate way to begin an album than “The Wrong Way” was last time around. With syncopated drums, horns, electronic keyboards and heavy guitar feedback, the song progresses softly but with authority. It is with the next track, “Hours”, that we begin to see TV on the Radio’s more focused direction. Eerie, repetitious drumming opens the track along with a hummed harmony from lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, a technique that the band uses throughout the album in its melodies. The drumming becomes quite intense as the melody soars on this more upbeat but moderately dark track.

The next song is “Province”, which is already better than any song on the last album after only three tracks. We haven’t heard anything this deep from TV on the Radio yet; “Province” moves along slowly with one of the album’s most impressive repated piano riffs, more hummed melodies and a crescendo-esque chorus complete with Adebimpe straining in falsetto that “Love is the province of the brave.” The band gives us a break from the first three amazing tracks with “Playhouses”, probably the album’s only disjointed moment. Perhaps this is planned, as the song that follows, “Wolf Like Me” is the clear standout sitting in the middle of this collection of incredibly diverse musical arrangements. Pounding drumming and heavy electric guitar feedback prevail in this raucous, foot-stomping rock song. The song even slows down towards the middle, giving the listener break while still leaving him anxious for the beat to pick up again and overall demonstrating the band’s progress in arranging their music. This song is an instant classic.

Normally, I would not break down each song on an album individually. However, the album’s songs do not ever seem to blend, and it is often hilarious how different each song is from the one before it. Nevertheless, this is to the band’s credit, as successful experimentation and innovation are what seperate this work from most of what we have heard this year. The chanting, tribal drumbeat of “A Method” provides the closest to a cappella that the band attempts as the drumming is the only instrumentation, and is an improvement over Desperate Youth’s eventually redundant “Ambulance” which was made in a similar style. ”Let The Devil In” is an anthemic, circular jam that seems to carry the album’s most care-free energy.

TV on the Radio have plenty of juice left for the album’s final four tracks, none of which have a single weak moment. “Dirtywhirl” is perhaps the most accessible song on the album, but this is not to say that it is not a step forward for the band musically. Sure, the melody is redundant, but in a manner that fails to tire the listener’s ear. Adebimpe seems as involved vocally in this song as any he has ever recorded, delivering an added intensity. “Blues From Down Here” features a new vocal from the deeper throated Kyp Malone, along with instense, rolling drum work that make this track the album’s darkest moment, and possibly one of its most underrated. As I look back on the year, it is this song that probably seperates this album for me as the best that 2006 had to offer, as it comes out of nowhere to showcase how far this band has truly come from their beginnings.

“Tonight” would have been a fine conclusion to this work as it slows down the pace noticeably with more beautiful vocal harmonies and undertones of light cymbals. Instead, Return To Cookie Mountain concludes perfectly with “Wash The Day”, a slowly building, progressive finale reminiscent of but superior to previous album closer “Wear You Out.”

Overall, what seperates this album from their last work is indeed a combination of the drumming additions and the soaring melodies, but mostly the incredible diversity from track to track. There is never a lag. The album’s intensity builds until the last track concludes in a manner which seems almost as if the album is exhausted and out of breath from its journey. They certainly still sound like TV on the Radio, but with much more focused direction.

The Top 25 Wines of 2006

December 5, 2006

Over the course of 2006, I tasted over 500 wines, and trying to narrow those down to 25 was no easy task. In the end, picking my favorite wines released in 2006 that I had the opportunity to taste was about more then simply listing my top rated wines from top to bottom. As any serious-wine drinker knows, a moderately priced wine with above average qualities is often a better bet than an outrageously priced wine that is in a class of its own. I took this into consideration while breaking down my Top 25 Wines of 2006, and also looked at aging potential as well as the level of immediate excitement I felt when tasting the wine. Of course, there are still thousands of great wines out there that I didn’t get to taste, so these were my favorites of those I had the time, money and privilege to sample.

Two American wineries, Loring and Darioush, dominated my list as each placed three of their wines in the Top 25. The spectacular 2003 vintage of Bordeaux fared well also, placing seven wines on the list. In addition, wines from Spain, Italy, Australia, Argentina and others from California rounded out my favorites. Here they are:

#25: Darioush Viognier 2003 Napa Valley, 89 Points, $35

Extra credit was given here for having been my favorite white wine I tasted in 2006. Aromas of honey and lemon combine with hints of apricot. Strong citrus flavors of apricot, orange marmalade and lemon dominate with honey notes behind which are complemented by nice spice elements as well. The finish is smooth and crisp with a long fruity length. Spice lingers with hints of butterscotch, toffee and light sweetness.

#24: Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2003 Pauillac, 96 Points, $325

The most expensive wine I tasted was, not surprisingly, one of the best, although I am sorry to say I will probably never get to taste it again. Strong toasty oak elements are present on the nose as well as black fruit and hints of chocolate. A nice layer of toast and oak fill the mouth initially before big, intense flavors of currants and blackberries evolve. These are followed by a blast of cocoa powder, toffee and vanilla with the slighest hint of minerality hiding behind. Incredible layering and long length of toffee and vanilla oak which linger for minutes with the fruit and silky tannins. 

#23: Ornellaia Tenuta dell Ornellaia 2003 Tuscany, 93 Points, $135

A famous Super-Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot (no Sangiovese, which is interesting for this region), which begins with aromas of blackberry, sugary spice and hints of earthy black olive. The full body conveys flavors of perfumey blackberry and black cherry layered with earth, light cocoa and olive. The long, spicy finish is dominated by chocolate and showcases impressive balance, complexity and a soft acidity.

#22: Numanthia-Termes Termanthia 2003 Toro, 95 Points, $150

I was pleased to taste this twice wine this year, with fairly consistent notes. The nose presents burnt chocolate, blackberry and tobacco smoke aromas with hints of leather, smoked bacon and fudge. Lively blackerry and black licorice flavors develop into incredibly dark smokey tobacco, leathery notes with loads of pepper, mocha and dark cocoa. Full, long finish, a monster!

#21: Chateau Cos D’Estornel 2003 St. Estephe, 95 Points, $175

A whopper of a wine with an opaque body and aromas of oak, chocolate, leather and black currant. Deep, dark, gorgeous mouthfeel provides and absolute explosion of black fruits followed by spice, minerally earth, chocolate and tar. Long, velvety, tannic finish layered with black fruit, spice, chocolate and tar. This was probably the fullest-bodied and certainly the darkest wine I tasted of the 2003 Bordeauxs and in my opinion has potential to be the best wine of the vintage, but needs some time to soften some more. An absolute monster.

#20: Staglin Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 Napa Valley, 94 Points, $125

The top 100% cabernet I tasted of the challenging 2003 vintage was not surprisingly from a low-production, expensive winery. This wine shows elegant aromas of soft cassis, vanilla, black fruits and cocoa beans. The body is structured with the same elegance, bursting with flavors of lush blackberry and black cherry layered with chocolate, tobacco and earthy spice. An endless finish is held together nicely by gripping tannins, elements of chocolate and tobacco. The length literally lingers for minutes.

#19: Chateau Colon Segur 2003 St. Estephe, 93 Points, $90

One of many great wines from the 2003 Bordeaux vintage, this begins with deep currant aromas and notes of mineral, earth, oak and perfumey black licorice. Violet and black licorice and strong funky well-water mineral flavors are initially present along with earth, chocolate and hints of leather and oak. Oak and chocolate shine through the elegantly layered finish.

#18: Tapestry Shiraz 2003 McLaren Vale, 90 Points, $20

This wine is a widely available, inexpensive treasure that should improve with time. Powerful dark fruit aromas of blueberry, blackberry w/ notes of toasty oak and pepper are evident. Velvety, intense initial flavors of violet, plum and blueberry evolve into blackberry and vanilla with hints of pepper and black licorice. Long length, only moderately spicy but packed with juicy blue and black fruits.

#17: Chateau Pontet Canet 2003 Pauillac, 92 Points, $60

This relative bargain of a Bordeaux begins with complex aromas of blackberry, cherry, oak and light perfume dominating the nose. The flavor profile is full-bodied with intense blackberry fruit and notes of black licorice and perfumey black cherry. Layers of light chocolate add balance behind with notes of lightly toasty oak. The decidedly perfumey berry fruit lingers long with intensely gripping tannins.

#16: El Nido Clio 2003 Jumilla, 91 Points, $40

The second level entry from El Nido of the Cabernet Sauvignon-Monastrelle blend variety is the Clio. It begins with a full nose of perfume, black cherry, blackberry and bourbon barrel oak. Elegant flavors of black cherry, black licorice and blackberry develop into strong oak and toffee. Full finish, with oak and toffee lingering nicely.

#15: Loring Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Santa Lucia Highlands, 93 Points, $50

This was the first of three pinots from Loring that blew me away this year. The Gary’s Vineyard begins with aromas of toast and red cherry; a truly dense fruit nose. Flavors of dark plum, cherry and blackberry combine with pepper and hints of coffee and cocoa. Hints of smokey game assisted by firm tannins pull everything together in the full, long length. A muscular and concentrated pinot.

#14: St. Clement Orropas 2003 Napa Valley, 93 Points, $50

The flagship wine of personal favorite St. Clement was another 2003 that fared well, the Orropas being a meritage blend of primarily cabernet. Aromas of cassis, vanilla and hints of chocolate are evident on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, black plum and black cherry evolve with loads of dark chocolate and coffee lingering in the background. Hints of caramel, vanilla and coconut add complexity to the body. Very soft finish with impressive length as chocolate lingers behind the fruit.

#13: Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge Shiraz 2004 Barossa Valley, 91 Points, $18

This is the lowest priced wine on the list, and is probably the bargain of the year. It has potential to age well into the next decade. The nose begins with aromas of black fruit, vanilla oak and spice. Substantial fruit flavors of black plum, licorice, blackberry and black cherry develop layered with strong oak and toasty vanilla. The wine finishes with peppery spice, dark chocolate covered cherries and a long black raisiny length.

#12: Domaine Alfred Estate Chamisal Pinot Noir 2004 Edna Valley, 92 Points, $35

Deep, dark blackberry aromas with hints of black cherry, leather and chocolate. Dark and complex body for a pinot with an explosion of flavors including blackberry, mocha and caramel with hints of black cherry, spice and chocolate. Full, velvety mouthfeel with light leathery notes, impressively layered. Long, complex length with black fruit, coffee and chocolate lingering on and on. Soft finish with light spice elements.

#11: Darioush Red 2003 Napa Valley, 92 Points, $40

Darioush’s meritage blend is comprised of mostly cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Aromas of baked plum, cherries and perfume dominate the nose. Black cherry flavors with notes of wild raspberry and hints of blackberry are present initially with nice notes of black licorice, pepper spice and perfume adding complexity. The syrah really shows in this one. Full-bodied and deep finish with notes of licorice, chocolate and intense pepper spice. Long length with a complex layering of flavors.

#10: Catena Alta Malbec 2003 Mendoza, 92 Points, $40

This was easily the most exciting Malbec I tasted in 2006. Aggressive aromas of coffee, tar and black fruit elements are immediately seductive. Full-bodied flavors of blackberry combine with strong undertones of coffee, tar and mineral with a complex backbone of violet and blue fruit. The finish is thick, soft and long with blue fruit and coffee shining powerfully through the nicely balanced mineral elements.

#9: Cenit Zamora 2003 Toro, 92 Points, $40

This wine surprised me at a tasting, and turned out to be my favorite 100% Tempranillo of the year. Perfumey, floral violet aromas combine with notes of oaky vanilla, black cherry and blueberry on the nose. Complex blueberry and blackberry flavors intertwine with perfumey spice, chocolate and hints of black cherry. Refined and elegant, as chocolate and dark fruit shine behind incredible balance.

#8: Chateau La Grange 2003 St. Julien, 92 Points, $35

Scoop up as many of these as you can find, because this is an amazing wine for the value that should continue to improve for up to twenty years. Aromas of deep toast and oak combine with blueberry and chocolate. The flavors are initially chocolatey and oaky with strong toast elements before notes of blackberry, blueberry and licorice have their turn. Full-bodied, smooth and warm with violety fruit, chocolate, oak and mineral lingering long. A fantastic value.

#7: Loring Durrell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Sonoma County, 93 Points, $50

The first of Loring’s great pinots of the 2004 vintage that I tasted is cemented into my memory. The Durrell Vineyard pinot begins with giant aromas of earth, toast, wild berries and creamy chocolate. The body exhibits a creamy mouthfeel as red, wild and blackberry flavors lead into dominant, deep layers of cocoa and toasty vanilla oak. Elements of rose petals and hazelnut are layered behind. Long, smooth length with creamy vanilla lingering.

#6: Plumpjack St. Helena Cuvee 2004, 93 Points, $55

This is an extremely young 100% cabernet sauvignon that has incredible potential. The nose showcases dark, intense aromas of blackberry and blueberry pie. Strong initial flavors of the same develop along with black plum and black cherry followed by dark chocolate syrup. Very rich, concentrated black fruit flavors. Long, strong, seemingly endless finish, the longest of any cabernet I tasted in Napa. Black fruit and rich chocolate syrup linger on and on, very little tannin or dryness even at such a young age allows fruit complexity to shine, as the body is soft and loaded with flavor. I can’t imagine what this will taste like in five years.

#5: Chateau Leoville Poyferre 2003 St. Julien, 95 Points, $90

This is an extremely elegant wine with aromas of cassis, perfume and light minerality. The velvety body is loaded with dark blackberry fruit complexity which leads into layers of chocolate. Layers of thick black fruit and chocolate intertwine with very little oak in the way while firm tannins add grip. The finish is extradonary in its length and extremely smooth, allowing the black fruit and chocolate to linger effortlessly. Full-bodied and deep yet soft and elegant.

#4: El Nido 2003 Jumilla, 96 Points, $115

This expensive Spanish blend of 70% Cabernet and 30% Monastrelle knocked me to the floor. Initial aromas of inky blackberry evolve into deep leather, tar, chocolate and black fruit. The flavors are full-bodied and creamy with layers of cassis, blackberry fruit and dark chocolate. Toasty, rich vanilla flavors lie underneath with dark hints of leather. This wine possesses amazing depth, length and complexity as the cassis and chocolate linger for an eternity.

#3: Darioush Signature Shiraz 2003 Napa Valley, 94 Points, $60

This was one of the few wines I tasted on my trip to Napa that literally stopped me in my tracks. It begins with inviting aromas of blackberry, licorice, tar, leather and chocolate. The velvety, extremely dark body offers a tremendous mouthfull of flavors including blackberry, blueberry and black licorice with hints of leather and a burst of black pepper laying behind. Smooth, silky and peppery finish with spice and black licorice lingering for what seems like a full minute.

#2: Loring Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Santa Lucia Highlands, 94 Points, $50

The best of the Loring pinots is the Rosella’s Vineyard. Aromas of earthy strawberry and dark fruits lead into hints of oaky cocoa. Peppery dark berry flavors combine with layers of chocolate and tar, smokey tobacco, oak and spiced game. Amazing structure, with firm, well-integrated tannins holding together the full and complex length. Heartstopping and everything a great pinot noir should be.

#1: Chateau DuCru Beaucaillou 2003 St. Julien, 97 Points, $125

An earth-shattering combination of elegance and strength, this wine was the star of the highly acclaimed 2003 Boredeaux vintage for me. It begins with inviting aromas of black currants and dark chocolate backed by notes of oak and perfume. Dark, mouth-coating chocolate and cocoa bean flavors combine with black cherry, blackberry and creamy oak. Strong tannins provide perfect amounts of dryness and the seemingly endless flavors of creamy chocolate and black fruits linger for minutes. Full-bodied and perfectly smooth with a simply gigantic flavor profile. This is likely the best wine I have ever tasted.

College Football Quick Take- Humans, Common Sense Defeat Computers and General Lunacy

December 5, 2006

I was pleased and moderately surprised to see the BCS get it right and avoid what would have been a catastrophic situation. Anyone who honestly believes Michigan got screwed needs a serious reality check. Florida played the tougher schedule, won what was undeniably the best conference this season, played an extra game and deserves a shot to succeed where Michigan failed.

Again, what makes college football great is that we don’t need a playoff because the whole season is one long tournament. In the rare case that a one-loss team is given a second chance, that’s great for them, but no team that has lost a game has a gripe. Win all of your games, then complain about getting screwed. Put your mind at ease and recognize the Ohio State-Michigan game for what it was, an incredibly exciting national semifinal. Now you have the champions of the two best conferences in the land facing off for the title. That sounds about right to me.

Having said that, Ohio State is going to be all over Florida.

College Football- The BCS Sees its Worst Nightmare Become a Reality

December 3, 2006

Wow. What can I even say to begin this article? Today seemed to be so simple. USC was going to beat UCLA handily, Florida was going to lose to Arkansas anyway and there wasn’t going to be any discussion about anything.

Shame on all of us, because we should know that what makes the college football season the greatest of any sport ever conceived is that anything can happen, and when it does, the implications of such a happening can be enormous. First, I will address the two BIG games today, and then I will assert what I believe should happen as far as deciding a #2 team, prefacing my argument with the fact that it really doesn’t matter, as I don’t think Florida or Michigan will come within two touchdowns of Ohio State.

UCLA 13, #2 USC 9

Three weeks ago, I didn’t give the Trojans a shot in hell at running the table, but ironically no words can even express the shock I felt after the reality of this outcome set in, especially after watching USC put up 44 points on a Notre Dame team that beat UCLA. But the Bruins defense came out ready to die if necessary, and in all reality helped the Bruins dominate this game more than the final score would indicate.

The game’s only touchdown was scored in the first quarter by UCLA, and even after USC forced a safety, they were never really able to get things going. In the fourth quarter, USC faced a four point deficit and a fourth and one from their own territory with over four minutes to play and three timeouts remaining. Reckless head coach Pete Carroll unsurprisingly opted to go for it and got it, but the college football gods would have their wrath a few plays later. Driving to the UCLA 25, QB John David Booty had a pass deflected and intercepted on 2nd down with a little over a minute to play. The look on Carroll’s face was priceless (note the movement in the neck muscles!)

Having conserved their timeouts, USC was able to force a punt with about 14 seconds to play. And how about that punt. Are you kidding me? To me, that was the moment where disbelief set in. The UCLA punter sent the kick 62 yards over the head of the humbled USC return specialist, and the game was over. The ensuing hail mary from the USC 15 yard line was surpringly promising, but the Bruin secondary was able to bat it to the ground. Conclusion: Great Pac-10 game with uncharacteristically slow offense. I can’t wait to see the Emerald Bowl, a battle of fallen top tier programs, UCLA and Florida State. As far as USC goes, well, they played a tough schedule, but weren’t consistently great this season. For one, I’m looking forward to seeing a title game that doesn’t involve them, because it has been awhile.

#4 Florida 38 , #7 Arkansas 28

The Gators won a high-octane battle in an SEC championship that put doubters of the worth of this league to shame. Florida jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead with unusually quick production offensively against a stout Arkansas defense. But before you knew it, Arkansas was right back in it, leading 21-17 after some of its own offensive productivity along with a really bad shovel pass by Chris Leak that was returned for the go ahead touchdown.

Arkansas then stopped Florida and forced a punt, and looking back on this game, the play that followed was the turning point. An inexplicable mental mistake which can be most mildly described as a fair catch gone wrong resulted in a fumble and go ahead Florida touchdown. The Razorbacks battled back to score again, but could never regain the lead.

To put this game into perspective for those who didn’t get to see it, there wasn’t a more entertaining game played Saturday, except for maybe the West Virginia-Rutgers triple overtime epic. The SEC proved itself worthy of praise, as both teams put on offensive shows. Nothing was ruled out in this one, as trick plays, fake punts and defensive game-makers ran rampant. Three touchdowns were thrown in this game by players that are not quarterbacks. That stat is nuts for an SEC game. Conclusion: Florida deservingly won an incredibly tough SEC conference, its only loss coming controversially at Auburn. The Gators offense really stepped up, and Percy Harvin is officially a terror.

But what does this all mean? Who plays Ohio State for the championship Matty?

I thought you’d never ask. I may ramble on a bit about this, but please hear me out, because I know what I’m talking about.

I don’t completely understand how the computer ranking portion of the BCS works and don’t completely agree with using it, because I believe if humans alone could decide the answer to this question common sense would prevail. I am a human, so I will speak in human terms, not computer terms. Having said that, I think it is important to remember two things. For one, no matter who gets “screwed” here between Michigan and Florida, both had chances to run the table and both failed. To me, whoever gets into the championship gets lucky and nobody gets screwed. In fact, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why we don’t just hand Ohio State the championship right now, because they were clearly the best team in 2006. Everybody else lost at least once, so they need to stop crying and be happy that this conversation is even happening.

Secondly, regardless of how much you might want a playoff, you can’t forget how vastly improved the BCS system is compared to the old one. In 1994, an undefeated Penn State team wasn’t even allowed to play a Nebraska team that they probably would have beaten due to conference bowl obligations, and therefore finished 12-0 as #2. If that were still the case, Ohio State wouldn’t be able to play Michigan OR Florida in the title game, because conference obligations would delegate the Buckeyes to play USC in the Rose Bowl. Not convinced? Condsider this: Last year’s championship, arugably one of the best college football games of the past quarter century, would never have happened either, despite the universally accepted fact that USC and Texas were clearly deserving of battling for the title last year. USC would have played in the Rose Bowl while Texas would have been sent to the Orange Bowl. Assuming both won, the #1 ranked Trojans would have been given the title, and would that have been the proper outcome? So remember, although the system is still admittedly flawed, it has made considerable improvements.

Accepting these facts of the BCS system,  now we move along to the big question: Who should play Ohio State in the national title game? Again, from the standpoint of a human who didn’t go to Michigan, I think this is a pretty simple question. It’s midnight, and I just heard Kirk Herbstreit say on the College Football Final that if you think Florida is #2, you shouldn’t think that just because you don’t want to see a rematch, and for the most part, I agree with that.

The fact is that the SEC is without question the toughest league in America from top to bottom without a close second. This is a conference that will finish the season with five teams in my top fifteen and three in my top seven. By virtue of playing in such a conference and winning it, you are bound to have some stellar wins. I have two strong arguments for why I feel Florida should be in the championship game. Let us examine them:

To start, we will examine the quality wins of both teams. We will consider a quality win to be a victory over a team that is undeniably in the top 20. In parentheses are wins over teams that are not in the top 20, but strong bowl contenders.

Michigan: Wisconsin, Notre Dame (Penn State, Purdue)

Florida: Arkansas, LSU, Tennessee (Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky)

Given that both teams lost on the road in close games to formidable opponents, Florida looks to have the more impressive resume, especially given the controversy surrounding their only loss at Auburn.  On to reason #2:

Again, I am having trouble as a human accepting this whole double jeoprady thing. Why does Ohio State have to beat Michigan twice but Michigan only has to beat Ohio State once to win a national championship? Yes, I know that the precedent was set in 1996 when Florida beat Florida State in a similarly timed rematch, but those teams were not in the same conference. And I realize that if North Carolina beats Duke three times in regular season college basketball play and then Duke beats them in the national title game that Duke is crowned the champion, but isn’t the beauty of the college football season that every game is like an elimination game? Giving Michigan another chance really takes away from the value of those regular season games, especially when you are passing over a one loss team in a clearly stronger conference. With the most extreme set of circumstances as the exception (which we nearly witnessed this season), it is incredibly difficult to justify putting a team that finished second in its conference ahead of a team that finished first in a much stronger conference. That seems like pretty basic common sense.

As a human with a beating heart, a functioning brain and lungs that help me to absorb oxygen into my body, I find it hard to justify the opposing argument. No logical reasoning can deny a one-loss SEC champion a shot at a national title behind a second place Big Ten team, at least not this season. Do I think that Florida would beat Michigan? Probably not. But that isn’t the point. The point is that what makes college football great is that the season is in and of itself a tournament. Michigan had its chance, it had every chance in fact, and it couldn’t beat Ohio State. Florida hasn’t had that chance yet, but they have now most certainly earned it.

Having said all of this, I conclude that I have probably wasted an hour of my life writing this for, once again, two reasons. For one, I don’t have a good feeling that common sense will prevail, or even if it does, that the computers will care. We will probably have a rematch. Secondly, it doesn’t matter anyway because neither team has a realistic chance to beat Ohio State in my opinion. Given that particular state of affairs, it is unfortunate that the situation has come to this. Putting Michigan in the championship will be a disaster of monumental proportions. Everyone knows the SEC is beyond pissed already, I mean Tommy Tubberville was complaining about discrimination four games into the season! An all Big Ten final that excludes a one loss SEC champ will add an atomic bomb to the fire. And as devastating as that surely sounds, it doesn’t come close to matching the severity with which the entire regular season will be cheapened by such a rematch.

I hope I get this published before the humans vote. If I’m lucky, maybe the computers will read it and gain some sense as well.

BCS PROJECTIONS:

National Title: Ohio State vs. Florida

Rose Bowl: Michigan vs. USC

Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Orange Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Louisville

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Boise State