Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stealing Carbon: On the Relative Greatness of Modest Mouse

The way in which I broke up the posts may have made it sound like my main intention was to rip on Doyle, which it isn't -- only his misguided anti-MM argument. (Obviously spending that much time making fun of somebody means you have to like that person, or at least know them well enough to know they won't greet you with a swift kick in the nuts next time you see them. And Doyle's got a mean kicking foot since he got into soccer. He's best on set pieces.) So, Diesel, I still gots love for you. No homo. (I'm sorry and I know that's a reprehensible phrase, but I just can't resist using it. And it fits with my fire-spitting hip-hop theme thingy I've got going here.)

Moving along (mostly) from mocking Doyle to more meaningful pursuits, here’s why I think We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is great. This is going to be somewhat difficult to discuss, because it's a whole lot harder to explain why you think something's good than it is to say why it's bad.

I think Modest Mouse's last album, Good News..., was their worst. I further think a lot of people agree with me. If I remember correctly, my counterpart feels similarly. It got the lowest rating from Pitchfork of any full-length they'd released up to that point. (I'm discounting their review of Long Drive..., which is what a truly vapid piece of shit really looks like. He doesn't like the album because it's too long?) [also: lest you think I'm simply aping Pitchfork, they rated We Were Dead... even lower than Good News...] I disliked it because it felt uneven and predictable: the fast songs seemed conscientiously peppy, methodically upbeat. That's why I so detested (and continue to detest) "Dance Hall" -- a song I maintain is their worst. Same with "This Devil's Workday." They worked on only one level, as fast, catchy tracks to offset the slower ones. The lyrics were mostly unremarkable and often difficult to even discern. Those tracks -- and, to a lesser degree, songs like "One Chance" and "Satin in a Coffin," lacked what made earlier Modest Mouse songs so compelling: they weren't as complex as their slower, more meditative songs – they relied too much on repetitions of the chorus -- yet they felt too overproduced and polished to convey the raw energy of earlier uptempo tracks that did essentially the same thing, like "Head South" and "Breakthrough." Most of the songs on Good News were, to appropriate a metaphor I've beaten to death in creative writing workshops, one-trick ponies. "Float On" was an excellent, catchy, sticky sort of pop song -- I still like that song, despite the saturation -- and if any other band made it, I'd buy their album just to hear what else they had to say. But it didn't sound like Modest Mouse.

I’ll try to define what exactly MM does sound like in a bit. First let me finish with Good News. The slower tracks held their own, particularly “The World at Large” (their first tracks are almost invariably among the best on the album) and “Blame It on the Tetons.” I’m a sucker for strings, and both of those songs used them subtly and well.

(Speaking of strings, I just heard about this Israeli woman who plays “hip-hop violin.” Needless to say, I’m in love. More on this in another post, perhaps. I’m racking up the other posts I’m promising.)

But overall, Good News felt like the album of a band trying to channel its experimentations – more brass and strings, less unexpected changes in rhythm or mood mid-track – into a more predictable, and hence more marketable, product. They weren’t quite selling out, but it seemed like they were ready to.

I expected We Were Dead… to complete that shift. They’d recruited former Smiths (not Pixies, as I had previously thought) guitarist Johnny Marr and Shins frontman James Mercer, and I prepared myself for an album aping the latter’s slick, premeditated twee-pop. I figured Mercer would bring the same predictability and polish that makes me ambivalent toward the Shins and infuse it into my favorite band, whose two most endearing qualities, to me, had always been its rawness and unpredictability.

And that’s why Kid A was the first thing I thought of when I heard this album, sitting in the Zia parking lot at 12:10 AM the night it was released. Just like Radiohead, they’d expanded their previous experimentations – especially the strings and horns, but on a larger scale the willingness to incorporate entirely new sounds – while keeping their signature sound, which in MM’s case involves an ad-hoc, ass-pinching kind of brashness. Much like 2000-ish Radiohead, their sound hadn’t changed so much as evolved, in a way that surprised me even as I thought I should have seen it coming.

To bring this back to a more concrete level, I agree to a point that the four songs Diesel cites -- "Little Motel," "We've Got Everything," "Missed the Boat," and to a lesser degree, "Florida" -- suffer from the same one-notishness for which I earlier criticized Good News. I’m assuming that’s what makes them sound adult alternativey to him, and indeed I had a similar reaction, especially on first listen.

But Modest Mouse hasn’t gone adult alternative. Another song proves that, and further suggests that they may never do so. My favorite song on the album, “Parting of the Sensory.”

The song begins slowly, with only an acoustic guitar and drums backing Brock's barely-sung lyrics. It's actually only one repeated guitar line and a similarly repeated bass kick, along with what sounds like a rim shot or possibly a wood block (given MM’s penchant for using unconventional objects as instruments, it could be just about anything). A sample of the lyrics:

There's no work in walking in to fuel the talk
I would grab my shoes and then away I'd walk
Through all the stubborn beauty I'd start at the dawn
Until the sun had fully stopped
Never walking away from
Just a way to pull apart
Dehydrate back into minerals
A life long walk to the same exact spot

That's the opening verse. As usual with MM, the lyrics don't make any sense. Brock's lyrics have always sounded like those of an idiot savant, somebody who sees some sort of meaningful connection between his words that the rest of us can't. It's another reason many people resist MM's music (and another reason for the Lou Reed comparison); what strikes me as brilliance strikes others as pretentious and obtuse, or just plain stupid and nonsensical. It's worth noting that at least Brock never claimed to be a poet -- not like, say, Diesel's boy Jeff Tweedy, he of the poetry book and interviews in writer magazines -- and yet he manages to do what poetry is supposed to do, I think, which is to convey something, a mood or moment or theme, through non-literal language, imagistically or via suggestion. (I'm not sure many modern poets would agree with that -- most poems I read are either far too obvious or consist of abstract streams of language purposefully designed to prohibit any meaningful association, in hopes of being considered brilliant -- which is a primary reason why contemporary poetry grows less and less relevant. In contrast, I would argue that you can see the associations and themes in Brock’s lyrics, you just have to try, and many people aren’t willing.)

For example, in the above passage you don't get a concrete sense of anything happening. The "would" in the second line actually makes it all hypothetical, a suggested plan of action. You don't know what the talk is about, who he's talking to, where he is, who he is, etc. Yet you do get a string of relatively common images or themes: separation/dissociation (walking away, pulling apart), death or the ending of something (going back to minerals, the sun stopping, the last line's "same exact spot," which is, presumably, death). The life-as-a-journey metaphor, especially, seems familiar. It's the stuff of adult alternative songs: breakups, partings, vague senses of sadness.

But -- and this is why MM is absolutely not adult alternative -- the song grows more complex from there. Whereas an adult alternative song would be content hammering that same note for three-and-a-half minutes, talking about the sadness of a relationship and then offering a predictable redemption/solution/plea, Isaac Brock turns the whole fucking song on its head a minute in, right after the first chorus, when the guitar speeds up, a sinister violin comes in, and what sounds like the speaker's evil twin interrupts the song to ask:

"Who the hell made you the boss?"

The words stretch taut with anger, maybe even hatred. Then a call-and-response sequence begins, reinforcing this idea of a split consciousness because both are unmistakably Brock's voice: whereas the chorus in "Florida" relies largely on juxtaposing Brock's hoarse croak with Mercer's sugary-shrill response, this song is all Brock's (and, thankfully, so is this band, even with Marr and Mercer). You can tell by the way he shifts effortlessly from resignation to anger, from victim to villain. That's maybe the thing I love most about this band: in its best moments, it offers up a triumphant brand of cynicism, a hope made more genuine by the fact that it's obviously been tempered by astute observance of reality, by experience. A refusal to lie or delude. I posted recently on my blog, I think -- it may have been one of the deleted posts -- about something I recently read that said the mark of good writing is that it refuses to turn its back on the dark side of humanity; that it examines the night in order to better appreciate the dawn. I love that sentiment and heartily believe it. Adult alternative doesn't do that; adult alternative, like genre fiction, placates and reassures the reader/listener that life can be something other than it is. Adult alternative is dishonest. Modest Mouse isn't, not usually, and never for very long.

And if you want more proof of that, stick with the same song for a few more minutes, as the electric guitar comes in and the vocals distort and he starts swearing and the drums accelerate into gunshots and the fiddle comes back (another thing I love about this band: their songs grow more and more complex as they go along -- the horn that comes in at the end of "Spitting Venom" is just as fantastic) and finally everything stops but Brock and the odd clacking you can't quite place and he's screaming like a man on fire. If you're like me, you won't know what he's saying for the first few listens, instead appreciating the unsettling rhythm and strange appeal of hearing his own distorted voice responding to him, like a demon yelling out of Hell to a dying man. And then at some point you'll realize why that metaphor fits: because this is what he's saying:

"Someday you will die somehow and something's gonna steal your carbon."

You explain to me, Diesel, how an adult alternative band would ever have a line like that. Not even your boy Tweedy could pull that off -- he'd sing something cynical in a pretty voice and savor his own brilliance and irony. Brock bludgeons you with it, to the point of stripping away everything else -- all the music save for a harsh percussion that magnifies his words more than silence would -- until all you're listening to is a tortured voice that says you're going to die.

And that, my misguided friend, is incredible. It stretches credulity that the No. 1 band in the country is doing it with lines like that. People don't like to be reminded of their own mortality; the essential purpose of most pop culture, including adult alternative, is to avoid having to consider it. Isaac Brock doesn't want to let you, and you have half a brain in your head, the barest shred of taste or appreciation of honesty, you like him for it. He's not even just talking about death -- he only starts with death. He's commenting on consumption and the death it necessitates, about being erased from the earth, having the stuff of your very body stolen by another organism. No other band in rock, or at least none of their stature, discusses that kind of thing.

Not to mention how great the line itself is. Listen to the rhythm of that sentence, the way all sixteen syllables are trochaic, the way it rises in escalating vowels until the climactic harsh consonants, the c and the b (fricatives? I forget the linguistic term...). The way that rise parallels the dread that builds as the sentiment grows more and more cynical. The form fits the content, reinforces it, makes the perfect medium for the message: that's the mark of artistic brilliance. And you're not going to find that in fucking Wilco, whose attempts at experimentation have produced more bombs than Raytheon. ("Spiders (Kidsmoke)" makes "Fire It Up" sound like something off of Highway 61 Revisited.)

And they end the song with a literal gasp. Just a voice, gasping for air. Listen to it, it’s indelible. No other band could make that song.

That’s why I love Modest Mouse – those levels of greatness, the complexity of their songs and message, the manic-depressiveness of their music, half shouts and half whispers, cynical and hateful and beautiful in the same gasping breath. They remind you that you’re alone and slowly dying and they make you like them for it, and they somehow give you hope, and make you feel better, and make you want to tell people to fuck off, and make you want to listen more. Oh, forget the second person – they make me feel that way. No other band has ever done that: not Nirvana, the only band I ever worshipped; not even the Verve, whose Urban Hymns showed me that music could be extrasensory, something you don’t just hear or even feel but experience, perceive, remember, a part of your consciousness, a truth that helps reveal the world. That album did what great books do.

I don’t like this album quite that much. This band, yes, absolutely. I think they’re the best band in rock music right now, definitely the best American one. And I love this album; it’s early, but I’d pencil it in as album of the year. But I suspect it will never be an all-time great, simply because it lacks a thesis statement. That’s why it reminds me of Kid A, but not quite OK Computer, not quite Nevermind, and probably not quite even a YHF, which despite its lack of a single great song does cohere remarkably well, and does seem to be saying something. I don’t even know whether I think it’s MM’s best album; I’ll have to see how it ages, and they’ve made some pretty goddamned good albums. (At various points in the last two years, Long Drive…, The Lonesome Crowded West, and The Moon and Antarctica have all been my favorite.)

But it’s still a great album, legitimately great, better than anything else out there right now – including Wilco, who has done nothing very noteworthy in the last five years (and further, has produced exactly one remarkable album, albeit truly remarkable -- this Wilco/MM debate is its own post) -- and it sure as shit ain’t adult alternative.

To wrap things up, Diesel, your Pedro argument seems to me indicative of the “Everything Sucks Era,” to perhaps ironically cite Bill Simmons, a person I’ve often accused of doing the same thing you accuse MM of doing: stagnating artistically, declining into predictable mediocrity, playing out the string, whatever. That reaction is too easy and comes too quickly anymore; it’s harder to try to access something, to remain open to experimentation, and to possibly accept that an artist who is very good has actually gotten even better. But that’s what I encourage you to do with Modest Mouse, because that’s what I believe has happened. And I just explained why.

Maybe our readers are wondering why I've spent so much time and energy writing a half-billion words on Modest Mouse and why Doyle's wrong. Well, it's because I love this band and this album so much that I might actually try to turn portions of this post into an essay, not like a crappy essay for a class but a real essay, one of those things they publish in literary journals. That’s how I roll when it comes to Modest Mouse, so if you want to take a shot at them, Diesel, you'd better come correcter than that. I know you were born in Canada and so think that entitles you to claim expertise on adult alternative (and it probably does). But life is harsh. Hug me, don't reject me, or make posts to disrespect Modest Mouse, blatant or indirectly. Ill will rest in peace. I'm out.

(Fun fact: these last two posts combined are over 5,000 words long. That’s approximately 16-20 pages of writing, the same length as an average short story. I spent more than six hours writing them. I’m deranged.)

Kid A, and Fuck U; Or, It took you nine days to come up with that?

I've been thinking, Diesel, and you should really come sit in on my Rhetorical Analysis class sometime. I think it'd be good for you. As anyone who's seen your wardrobe can attest, you badly need a woman in your life ...

(by the way -- you have taste in women now? How is that, exactly? I once smoked a Cuban cigar -- does that mean I can say I have taste in cigars? Have you been reading books about women? Looking at the pictures maybe? Does internet porn have a taste? On second thought, don't answer that last one.)

... and I think you would really have a lot in common with some of the freshman girls in my class. They're still trying to adjust to life out in the big bad world, far away from their parents' house, just like you. Just like you, most of them think they're the epicenter of the universe. I think most of them are nice kids, just like you, but I pity their thickheadedness, and often they annoy me -- again, just like you. They're a lot better looking, of course, and they smell nicer and are a lot younger and have more promising futures, but -- also just like you -- they have no fucking idea how to construct an argument.

I'm going to list some of your major claims, and address them in turn. Hopefully it won't come off as a cut-rate FJM ripoff, like all your posts of this nature. I'll go in order:

You wouldn't listen to four of the MM songs unless you were working out. This is sort of like me saying that I'll never wear a cowboy hat unless I'm riding unicorns with Wyatt Earp. I've seen your idea of working out, and it usually involves throwing picks and calling holding until you get tired and fake an injury. I know, I know: you threw 90 mph in Little League. Those days are gone, Rocket.

Songs 2 and 3 are horrible, four others sound like adult alternative, four are good, and the rest are presumably unremarkable. First, you claim not to know what adult alternative sounds like, yet in the same breath you say a few Modest Mouse songs sound like adult alternative. You can't have it both ways, chief: either you listen to adult alternative, or you can't start throwing stones. So take that Hootie CD out from beneath your mattress and embrace the fact that you like adult alternative. It's cool -- I own the entire Counting Crows catalog. Sometimes we all want to hear music that is catchy and unchallenging.

Hey, wait a sec -- did you see that? Did you read that last sentence? What is that I just did there? Oh, that's right -- I just attempted to define a term I was using to construct an argument. Isn't that great, how that works? Doesn't that make it more compelling?

See, we in the business -- the business of Rhetoric (and seriously, how great is this business, guys? Am I right, or am I right?) -- understand that if you're trying to convince somebody to agree with you, all you really need to do is support your claims with compelling evidence, in whatever form -- logic, statistics, source material, etc.

Unfortunately for you, and for my 102 students, feeling really super duper strongly about a topic is not a form of evidence. Your audience doesn't care how strongly you feel if you don't give them any reasons why you feel that way. Stridency makes for poor support.

And this, Diesel, is why your take sucks. To take one last page from ENGL 102, you really should have revised that last post before putting it out there. Normally you at least attempt to give some sort of support for your outlandish claims by citing complex baseball stats or Reason magazine or some other esoteria nobody but you gives much credence. Now, it seems, you've abandoned even the pretense of reasonability in favor of tossing out ridiculous and unsupportable claims -- see the next paragraph for a response to my favorite example -- and then pulling the old bait-and-switch by accusing me of gross overstatement and then hoping nobody will notice that you're one Olde English and a missed condo payment away from turning into the homeless street preacher telling everybody outside this coffee shop that he's Jimmy Hoffa.

Take, for example -- since I explain my reasoning, and give examples and shit -- your line of reasoning about music exposure, which is so dumb it's actually sort of awesome. Your main claims are the following:

Ten percent of all music is incredible. -- I realize it's somewhat ironic for me to make fun of you for writing like a 102 student and then drop a dictionary definition myself, but you seem to abuse the word "incredible" even more than most people. So much, in fact, that you seem unaware of the fact that the above statement relies on fundamentally faulty logic. So, allow me to give the definition of the sense of incredible you're using there:

So extraordinary as to seem impossible: incredible speed.

Well, if fully ten percent of all music is extraordinary, then there's no such thing as extraordinary. If ten percent of all music stretches the boundaries of credulity -- if ten percent, one out of every ten songs -- makes you think, "I cannot believe a human being made this sonic goodness," well, then you're probably not the best person to be offering music reviews at all, much less such strident and overbearing ones.

To you, and whoever else is reading: stop abusing the language for effect, especially when you're only doing it to shore up your own shoddy argument. When everything becomes "incredible," it only makes it harder for people who do care about language to describe something that's actually incredible.

The "average human being" -- your exact words -- will listen to five percent of all the music in the world in her lifetime.

Insofar as it's possible to imagine the average human being, she's probably a thirtysomething street vendor in a Mumbai (Bombay, for all you hegemonists out there) slum. I have no authority to make this guess, really, (See? Is that so hard to admit, Mr. Expert on Everything?) but I would guess that there are currently somewhere between five and ten thousand non-cover bands or solo artists -- people who create new music -- in the United States alone. There are thousands more in every developed country across the world, anywhere that has enough resources to allow a small segment of its citizenry to spent its time creating music. Even in places that don't fit that description, there's folk, traditional, and/or tribal music.

In other words, there's no possibly feasible fucking way the average human being will hear five percent of all that music, even if her street cart sells music. I mean, these people in all these "other" place are so poor, they probably can only afford Ipod shuffles! Only a few hundred songs fit! Can you imagine? Oh, the humanity. Let's go have a hamburger. We can hit the drive-thru.

Unless, of course, by "the average person," you really just mean the average white twentysomething middle-class American male, just like nearly everybody else who reads this blog means when they use that phrase. (Ding!)

Similar statements you probably should have considered before making: the new Bloc Party album is the worst of the year (so you've listened to every album released this year? Impressive! Lots of free time in the property management biz, I guess.); you don't want to say anything about the Arcade Fire album so you don't sound like other pretentious people, so you say that it's one of the few albums in your life that exceeded your expectations (apparently you're not pretentious, you just have unreasonably high standards and like to sound smarter/better than everybody else); "Who hasn't dropped Velvet Underground as a comparable..." (actually, lots of people -- but I'm glad you're not going to sound pretentious); lots more (really, the entire post, save for the "Shalom").

But let's not drift too far into a discussion of how retar... er, developmentally disabled your inflated rhetoric makes you sound. Let's just focus on your so-called review.

It's hard to talk about music when you're not a musician, not familiar with the terminology of music (the Rhetoric of Sound -- there's my next dissertation). I realize this; I'm in the same boat. And yet, still, I believe we can do better than what you've perpetrated in this space. To wit:

Fully a dozen of your "evaluations" are based on calling something either good or bad with no support. Everything "sucks" or is "good" or "excellent" or -- dear God -- "incredible." When you feel creative, you call something "a vapid piece of shit" or make up some half-assed baseball metaphor (because obviously baseball is what you know best, D-Train, you of the fabled adolescent heater and horrible fantasy squads). But I can't even keep going through your post looking for examples, because I don't want to be (more) pedantic, and because it's just galling.

The point is that you base everything you say on the same premise: because you said so. You are always right, so if you say something is good or fantastic or a vapid piece of shit, you're ipso facto right. (I think that's the second ipso facto in two posts!) This might work, if you were an accomplished musician, or perhaps an established music reviewer -- although even then, it would seem pretentious. It doesn't work so well here, because you're not an expert on music (or anything else, really, but that's another post). So you're going to have to deign to try to explain. Deign to explain -- that's kind of catchy. I might sell that to Stoops as his UA football slogan for 2007.

Take, for instance, your claimed Velvet Underground expertise. I won't discuss in too much depth the fact that a year ago you borrowed my copy of Loaded because you didn't know much about them and wanted to hear it. I also won't discuss the lengthening list of good bands I've turned you on to, at least in part (Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Wolf Parade, CYHSY, Modest Mouse, etc., etc.), despite the fact that you've never introduced me to any band more significant than Dr. Octagon. (Oh, oh, and just one more thing: I showed you your first Tec, on tour with Large Professor!)

Rather, let's discuss this nugget:

What makes bands like the VU especially prone to such abuse is how impossible it is to make a false statement about the music; they're a musical ink blot. Want to see post-rock in "European Son?" Sure! Punk, classic rock, post-punk, emo ... Lou Reed's little art band has become the biggest fucking cliche ever.

Actually, yes -- yes, I do want to see post-rock in "European Son." I want you to show it to me. I want you to show that you even know what post-rock means, beyond citing Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, two more bands you probably first heard about from me. Talk to me about Tortoise or Slint, even if you only know as much about them as I do, which is essentially enough to mention them in the context. I also want to see "emo" in Velvet Underground songs. And I also want you to show that you know something about the term, beyond a cursory knowledge of whatever the biggest pop-punk bullshit is right now. Talk to me a little about Sunny Day Real Estate or Jawbreaker. Look it up on wikipedia if you have to -- I didn't, but then again, I don't know as much about music as you do.

That's why I didn't know Kid A was Radiohead's "second-best album in most people's eyes." See, here I thought a lot of people thought it was their best album, and even more thought it was their most groundbreaking album. You know, the one that got a 10.0 from Pitchfork, including perhaps the most fawning final paragraph ever written by Brent DiCrescenzo, whose writing is so loathsome, so snarky and self-absorbed, that he single-handedly gave that site a bad name. As he said, "Comparing this to other albums is like comparing an aquarium to blue construction paper." Sure, you could make an argument for OK Computer (which also got a 10), but it would be a hell of an argument. One that hasn't been conclusively decided, unless you want to actually try to support that claim. Otherwise, "most people" means you.

But goddamn it, I'm straying again. I wrote this post not to argue against your irresponsible use of language, nor to impugn your eminently impugnable music snobbery. I wrote this post to explain why the new Modest Mouse album is great. And to do so, I'm going to further explain my Kid A metaphor, which you were correct (happens to the worst of us; suns and dogs asses and what not) in saying needed further explanation.

And I'm going to try to actually give reasons.

First, it's like Kid A in that it's an album in which a band takes an emerging pattern evident in its previous album and turns it into a full-fledged ethos. For Radiohead, that meant taking the technological focus of OK Computer -- which was pretty transparently about technology, thematically, but wasn't really electronic music -- and going full-bore electronic, making music full of -- comprised of, mostly -- bleeps and boops and so on. The fact that Thom Yorke still sang on the album provided the perfect dynamic for exploring the theme -- his voice was a human sound amid a synthetic cacophony on an album about being human in a synthetic world. It was a beautiful album, not only in the quality of the songs -- their rhythms, the lyrics themselves, Yorke's haunting wail -- but in the quality of the statement it made. An established rock band making a purely electronic album took balls. To make an electronic album so good that everybody liked it was very nearly an incredible feat.

That last part is where the comparison proves problematic. We Were Dead... does take a formerly experimental sound (more on what that means for MM in a bit) and run with it, but it remains to be seen whether it will have the impact Kid A did. However, I hope it will, and moreover, I think it should. I think it's that good. I'm aware that comparing it to Kid A is comparing it to a great and groundbreaking and bestselling album, one of the best of the last ten years. I think this is that kind of album. Check bestselling off that list already: as I write this, it's the No. 1 album in America. Groundbreaking remains to be seen -- we'll have to wait years to see its influence on music.

So let's talk great. I’m going to tell you why I think it’s great. But I’m going to do it in another post, because we’re just over 2500 words already.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Verily ...

The MM album has grown on my enough that I would say it's more good than bad. I maintain that song 2 is an empty, vapid piece of shit and that song 3 is the single worst song the band has ever produced. Just thinking about it gives me a headache.

There are around three other songs on the album I'll probably never listen to unless I'm working out and I don't feel like skipping songs (four, actually: "Florida," "Missed the Boat," "Little Motel," and "We've Got Everything"), because they suck and sound like what I'd imagine "adult" alternative listened to if I ever listened to it. There are probably four songs on the album that rank among the band's best, however, and it's what makes the album something I'll reach for once the first-month binge is over. While I'm not quite as floored by "Parting of the Sensory" as the perspectiveless retard with whom I share this blog, "March into the Sea," "Fly Trapped in a Jar," "Education," and Diesel favourite "Steam Engenius" (what a name!) are all excellent and certainly are good enough to justify the 21 loonies this album costs.

Also, just to get the album reviews out of the way: The new Bloc Party album is probably the worst of the year. I haven't seen a sophomore effort this bad since Mutter at UA. The new Arcade Fire album is fantastic -- definitely the best of the three albums mentioned in this post -- but I can't figure out a way to write nice things about it without sounding like one of those pretentious Pitchfork pricks, so I'll just say that it's one of the few albums in my life that actually exceeded expectations. It's so much better than Funeral, actually, that it's kind of unsettling, not unlike Ray Durham's career year at the tender age of 38.

Here's what a really want to talk about (besides baseball, of course, which is so close to starting again that it's taking me 15 minutes longer than normal these days to lose the morning wood): What possible fucking justification could Justin possibly have for comparing a good, maybe great, but not timeless MM album to Kid A?

I have some interesting theories about St, none of which conclude with him knowing shit about shit. He thinks he knows sports but believes that a pitcher's W-L record is more indicative of talent than it is luck (a position he shares with Steve Trachsel). He thinks he has better taste than me in women, which is kind of like Liberace telling you you're too flamboyant. I could go on like this, but I just watched Jim Thome hit a triple off the batter's eye at TEP and it made me realize, oddly, that life is short, too short for simile parades. So I'll conclude by saying that, in general, my "friend" has spend much of his life being horribly misinformed about close to everything, and I've spent much of my last six years trying to correct what I can assume is the only reasonable expectation of a public education in sunny Tombstone.

One of the best places one can trace large-scale, innards-rotting ignorance is when that person is talking about music. Not so much when it comes to whether or not someone likes something -- the correlation between good taste and sophistication is a lot weaker than fans of The Decemberists would have you believe -- but when that person is grasping for apt comparisons.

See, there's a wide world of music out there. Most of it is garbage, a lot of it is good-to-great, and about 10 percent of it is just incredible. The average human being will probably only listen to five percent of the music available, but there are certain albums or bands that have crazy ass market saturation. You need to be a Armenian goat herder to have not heard The White Album, and even then you need to be one who really can't think of anything better to do than hang with your goats. You need to be above the age of 50 to at least never heard of Radiohead, and over the age of 40 to have at least not sampled some of the band's stuff. And, tragically, there's not a sane American who wouldn't be able to identify Brittney Spears if her most popular song came on the radio.

Anyway, these albums that everyone's heard of, and most (readers?) have listened to make for excellent cultural touchstones. Who hasn't dropped Velvet Underground as a comparable when talking about some band they're currently infatuated with? What makes bands like the VU especially prone to such abuse is how impossible it is to make a false statement about the music; they're a musical ink blot. Want to see post-rock in "European Son?" Sure! Punk, classic rock, post-punk, emo ... Lou Reed's little art band has become the biggest fucking cliche ever. Which I'm sure absolutely thrills him.

Bringing it back to the original point of contention, comparing the new MM album to Kid A, which is Radiohead's second-best album in most people's eyes, requires a couple of boxes be checked by the subject album before one can approve the logic behind the comparison:

1) It should be the band's second-best album, since references to Kid A are often accompanied by that caveat;
2) It should be the logical "next step" for a band that's been broadening its scope;
3) It should be a peak album from one of the best bands of its particular genre (or multiple, fused genres) ever;
4) It should be so fucking awesome that almost anyone who listens to it immediately exclaims, "This is so fucking awesome!"

While it may seem like I'm being glib, I think those are all fair premises for an album to be compared to Kid A. So, let's see how the new MM stacks up:

1) No (That honor goes to Lonesome Crowded West or Moon and Antarctica, depending on taste;
2) No (the only logical next step would have been an even more commercial sounding album that further distances the band from its earlier, excellent stuff; this album is far less mainstream than its predecessor);
3) Yes, unequivocally;
4) No, absolutely not, I don't care how much you like it. It's a good album, with some excellent songs, but it's not a shit-your-pants-and-dance-the-jig album. Not even close. And that's the point.

No, this album is nothing like Kid A, save for the fact that both albums were created by excellent bands. If you really want a good comparison, choose something like Fugazi's The Argument, a good-to-great album that came late in the career of one of a seminal, genre-busting and -creating band that was coolly accepted by critics and fans because it kinda sounds like the band's lost its fastball and is playing out the string, but occasionally can still crank it up and hit 96 on the radar gun or toss a change-up that makes you gasp and reminds you he's still the same old Pedro when he needs to be and can be, but those moments are getting fewer and further between with every passing season because goddammit the shoulder just isn't what it used to be anymore and it's tough to do 8 hours of rehab work a day when you've got to watch the kids.

At least we brought the post to the point we all knew it would arrive at: A pseudo-intellectual reference to Diesel warhorse Fugazi morphing into a baseball analogy and, even more fittingly, a run-on sentence.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Take that, assholes

I know I'm supposed to be writing a counter-review (of sorts) on the Modest Mouse album, but after getting about halfway through I backed off, because I was being pushed into the "con" side of the fence before I was sure I was there. I will say I don't like the album close to as much as Justin does, but it's important to keep in mind that my compatriot would fellate Issac Brock if he had the chance. Me, not so much. I'll save the oral sex for Neko Case, when she's not doing shit with the the New Pornographers.

Anyway, stumbled on this little slice of heaven from a link on Baseball Prospectus: Are you familiar with the statistical-minded Internet sites like Baseball Prospectus?

Schilling: Yeah, I love those guys. I don't always agree with them but I think those are some incredibly smart guys. I've actually worked in the past with some guys there on statistical stuff I do for preparation. Will Carroll is the guy I've exchanged some information with. Do you think that Internet-based baseball analysts and writers should be available for BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting?

Schilling: Oh, it'll come full-circle at some point. Why wouldn't it? They already have a much larger impact than the Murray Chass' of the world would like to believe. I mean, you've got guys who are putting out what I know to be legitimately valuable statistical information and its relevance to a game in a win or a loss at Baseball Prospectus. Then you have guys that I'm not too fond of, like Murray Chass, who says, "What is VORP and who cares?" It was a stupid article. The only thing it did was show his ignorance to me in modern day baseball. Because those numbers do matter, those numbers do have value. Do they have value to me in getting a player out? No. But I would tell you that there are a lot of front offices that use those numbers for a lot of important decision making.

I almost shit my pants when I read this, even though I knew Schilling was a little more enlightened w/r/t sabermetrics than the average overweight hurler. I've gone back and forth on this guy; at times, he's displayed a level of megalomania that's shocking even in the bizarro-land that is MLB. It says something about the guy that, while few people believe he actually doctored the sock, no one would put it past him. On the other hand, he's unquestionably one of the most special players of my lifetime. Despite the fact that I'm less prone to using the term "clutch" to describe anything that isn't related to my transmission, if there ever were a clutch pitcher, it would be Schilling. And I always tend to respect cocky pitchers more than cocky hitters because the guys on the bump have nowhere to hide when they fuck up.

Anyway, this was awesome, and totally made my night. I'm not entirely sanguine about the chances of there being widespread acceptance of advanced statistical analysis in baseball -- I think too many people attack it because they're afraid of confronting something that appears much more sophisticated than it actually is -- it's nice to know that at least one person in the establishment won't hiss at a WARP3 breakdown.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Doyle was wrong before the album even dropped ...

My compatriot recently proposed that we extend our sporting disagreements to the world of music, an idea I like a lot despite the fact that I think we'll be somewhat limited by similar musical tastes. (Doyle, it seems, has far better taste in music than he does in, say, clothing or deodorants or women or baseball statistics.)

So I think it would be appropriate to begin with Modest Mouse. When I first broached the topic to Doyle of how much I had begun to love MM (this was years ago), he told me he didn't like them. "I can't handle the singer's voice," he said. I often hear that from MM neophytes, and indeed Isaac Brock's hoarse atonal growl does polarize listeners. It probably keeps far too many away from appreciating what I would argue is one of the five most important bands of this decade.

Yes, I thought about that statement before I wrote it, and no, I don't think I'm exaggerating. Modest Mouse passes the greatness test I recently discussed on Four Weeks (before that blog was bombarded by assholes and went on hiatus) in regard to writers: their songs sound distinctive and unique. You would never mistake a Modest Mouse song for another band, unlike other so-called revolutionaries like, say, the Strokes or the Shins. Modest Mouse does something musically that nobody else has done.

And they continue to innovate. Their new album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, was released today. I bought it at 12:05 this morning at Zia. I was expecting disappointment: I'd heard a lot of message-board fanboys screaming "sellout" after listening to the leaked version; the single, "Dashboard," sounded suspiciously catchy and radio-friendly; I didn't really like their last album that much, and it remains my least favorite of the ones I own; I was IMing with Doyle just before I bought it and he said he'd listened to a few tracks and thought they weren't good.

I've been listening to it all day, on the ride home from Zia and then late last night as I tried to write, then today on my iPod as I walked to campus to teach, and as I walked home. And I disagree. Boy, do I disagree. Lots of great albums took me a couple of spins to really appreciate, but even after only two full listens, I'm in love with this album. I think it's fantastic. I'm not going to say it's their best work yet -- I'll need to give it a month -- but it's in the running.

In fact, my first impression is better than that. I listened to all the other MM albums retrospectively, long after they'd been released (even Good News..., which I didn't buy until a few months after it came out, and which sat unplayed in my CD rack for some time thereafter). I'm listening to this one as a new album, in the context of other contemporary music, including a few other new albums I bought at the same time: the new Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, and Explosions in the Sky releases, as well as the newest Built to Spill. And this album strikes me as clearly better. This albums strikes me not as another decent album by a good band, as seems to be the critical consensus, nor as a set of failed experiments indicative of their fade, to paraphrase Connor.

This album seems, to me, like a truly great band at its artistic peak. It's experimental -- in many ways it sounds nothing like their other albums -- and yet it's still distinctively them. They make their experiments work, integrate them into their existing oeuvre, solidify their reputation by subverting expectations. This is their Kid A.

That's really the best comparison I can think of, maybe the only one. I remember when Radiohead dropped Kid A. That album hit rock music like a bunker buster; it left a crater in a landscape littered at the time with Limp Bizkits and Kid Rocks, astounded critics, baffled fans, moved units, and created an entirely new sound for the band, one that shocked everybody but should have been obvious from their previous forays into electronica. Years later, its influence can be seen everywhere, from Bright Eyes to Bloc Party, post-rock to the Postal Service. That album permeated rock like depleted uranium. (Yes, I am stretching the bomb metaphor too far. Suck it.)

I remember the first time I heard that album. I loved The Bends and OK Computer-era Radiohead -- still do -- and was expecting something similar: tech-tinged rock. Instead I got techno-electro-pop-instrumental-rock, like post-rock before the term came to mean predictable instrumental music (I'm looking at you, Explosions in the Sky). I listened to Kid A for the first time -- downloaded illegally off of Napster, God I miss Napster -- and I thought, "What the fuck is this?" And almost simultaneously, I thought, "This is great!" And shortly thereafter, I thought, "No, this is brilliant."

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is a brilliant album. Perhaps because I've heard it used too often and too broadly and blithely by grad-school types (Really? Palahniuk's good, but is he really brilliant?), I try not to use that word very often. But I think this album might be brilliant, as in remarkable, as in clearly better than even the good music I've heard recently.

I've got more on this -- probably lots more -- but time constraints limit this post. Hopefully Doyle-on will disagree and spit some hot fire, so we can get all vitriolic and shit.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Guess who's not dead

I can't believe this slipped my notice for so long, but John Mackovic(!) decided to let the fine retirees of Palm Springs what really happened in this year's Superbowl.

And not only does 'Ol Worst Hire Ever inform, he also give us a little insight into his taste in journalism. It seems Johnny likes his prose like he likes his vagina: dry and lifeless.

But I decided there was only one person to better provide some mockery than me: Former UA QB Jason Johnson. Take it away, JJ!

Defense wins championship and the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl by playing defense with both their defense and offense.

JJ: "See?!? See what we had to listen to all those years? When it wasn't, 'Blah blah blah, disgrace to your family,' it was some crazy contradictory shit like this!"

DIESEL: "You forgot to mention, 'Feel free to mix in some commas and copy editing, John!"

JJ: "Shut the fuck up. No one thinks it's funny when you do these."

D: "Oh ... that was hurtful."

The Colts consistently stunted their defensive linemen to create penetration and short-circuit the Bears' run game while playing zone pass coverage and allowing only the smallest of gains when passes were completed.

JJ: "OK, Diesel, you were right. This cocksucker needs to use some commas."

The steady rain impacted the ball handling in the first quarter, but professionals adjust and the football was secure for most of the game except when Rex Grossman threw passes into coverage and got picked off twice.

JJ: "This is beginning to give me flashbacks. First of all, Coach would always talk about doing stuff the way 'professionals' did it. And then Lance Briggs would yell, 'What the fuck do you know about professionals, asshole? You fucking sucked in the pros!' And then Coach would start flipping out, saying no one talks to him that way, and he'd go gouge out the eye of some walk-on kicker just to prove how hardcore he is. Then, after practice, he'd corner Lance and be like, "We're still OK, right?" And Lance would spit in his face."

The Chicago linebackers were totally out of position to react to the short throws since they were determined to get near the wide receivers running downfield. Manning clearly controlled the Chicago defense and did not allow them to dictate to him how the game would go.

JJ: "Funny story about this: After reading this, Lance flew to Palm Springs and fucked Coach's wife."

D: "Hahahahaha."

JJ: "Shut up, fatty."

D: "Sorry."

Most of the commercials were okay with a few really good ones. I personally like seeing Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman sitting together on a couch with Dave's arm around her. Could that have been video enhancement? Nevertheless, nobody needs any enhancement to see that the Indianapolis Colts was the better team on this day.

JJ: (Blows brains out).

EDIT: Here's another person who's not dead, perhaps almost as regrettably. Also, this story contains the single greatest closing line in the history of journalism.

Spring training is the best

These days, I've got some kind of baseball on at work all the time. I don't even really listen; it's just very comforting to know that my favorite sport is back. But every so often, I'll zone out of accounting bullshit, and stumble on some baseball bullshit from one of the B-team announcers doing the spring training radio broadcasts.

Fish-Stros, man on first, 56-year-old Mark Loretta ambles to the plate.

Play by play dude:Loretta is an ideal (No.) 2 hitter. He's hit there a lot in his career.

Mark Loretta has done a lot of things in his career. For a period of time, while with the Padres, he was one of my favorite players in the bigs. I have the T-shirt jersey to prove it. But that was a very short period of time, because Loretta was already past his peak when he played with the Friars and he's now one of the least valuable players in the bigs that promises to get close to 500 PA.

Loretta's 2007 PECOTA projection: .276/.341/.388

Loretta is now a middling-rate singles hitter who doesn't get on base a ton, has essentially no power, doesn't run very well, and has continued a career-long trend of being a very mediocre infielder.

IDEAL No. 2 hitter.

Anyway, Loretta pops up weakly to third base on the first pitch.

PBP: So, Lorettta ... maybe not patient enough there.

Color Man: That's, uh ... I guess the one thing you wouldn't want to see your (No.) 2 hitter do ... Patience would certainly be the key there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Diesel's awakening

Lately, I've been running at full speed into some really, really good writing. Part of it may be the result of a paradigm shift; that one of my best friends is getting the most prestigious writing fellowship in the country has made me a little more optimistic about the state of the art. Another one of my best friends is in the process of putting together a story that could really launch his career. Even if it doesn't, I'm blown away by the reporting he's done so far. I wish I had 1/3rd of his hustle; I would have been a much better writer myself (it would have helped if I genuinely liked people, as he does, but I didn't [nor do I today {hard to tell, I know}]). And, in general, almost all of my friends are doing really well for themselves, which has placed my cynicism in a (temporary) catatonic state. There will only be goodwill on this virtual page today, chillen'.

If you haven't peeped Joe Posnanski's blog, you're really missing out. Whenever I become convinced that every major sports columnist has taken a secret vow to insult his or her readers at every opportunity, I'll search for Posnanski's latest stuff in the KC Star. It's usually about the Royals or Chiefs, two teams I frankly couldn't give a shit about, but he's always struck me as one of the most reasonable dudes in the entire business. He doesn't get breathless or libelous, like this guy. Nor is he a sycophant, like this guy (especially if the subject is a snakeskin-boot-wearing GM of the Dodgers who hate stats and loves Juan Pierre). He's just someone who loves sports, loves thinking about sports, and loves writing about sports. Luckily for the rest of us, he's also determined that it's not against the law to do all three at the same time.

Then, this morning, while checking out the consistently excellent Free Darko, I ran across this line, which has probably made my day.

I am in the strange position of growing up in Philly, going to school in Boston and putting down about seven years towards being able to call myself a New Yorker. So I'm about as fucked up over Northeast corridor fandom as a Philip Roth protagonist facing down his mother, his sister, his mistress and his doppleganger [sic].

If that doesn't make you laugh out loud, then I don't know you. And considering some of the readership trends of this blog, that's likely the case anyway.

Anyway, the subject of the Free Darko post in question was the upcoming Tournament, which I am excited about, but with nowhere close to the intensity that this month-long orgy of "amateurism" used to inspire. When I was in college, there was simply no better time in my life than the tournament, except for every time I made it home after driving drunk. It helps going to a school like Arizona, I'm sure, but I also think there was a desperate need to retain my fanaticism while I could still support it. Sure, I was a little jaded about college sports, but it was mostly for effect during conversations or my early forays into column writing. At the end of the day, I really wanted to believe that college sports were more "pure," or whatever, than the pros. I wanted to believe that the UA was better off for its basketball team, that I would piss on Coach K's wife if I had the chance, that I wouldn't ever go to Stanford, even if it was free, because I couldn't stand to attend a school with an arena floor built to bounce like a fucking springboard just so the basketball team's palefaces could dunk every so often. I labored over my bracket, got into arguments with people about who the greatest college basketball player ever was, and generally got wasted every Thursday-Sunday. Those were heady, formative days for the Diesel, as he stumbled his way to a 2.5 GPA despite boasting MENSA-like majors Journalism and Communications.

Five or so years later, however, I find myself much less excited for the tournament, and it makes me a little sad. Part of it is work, which means I miss all the day action from Thursdays and Fridays, which was always my favorite (college basketball games, like blowjobs, are best enjoyed in the early afternoon, when it's still late enough to be drinking "morning" coffee but just late enough to start drinking beer without feeling like you're a complete sleazeball). But part of it is that I broke my end of the bargain with college sports about three years ago.

The bargain, for every fan of college athletics, is similar to the one an ugly rich guy has to make with his trophy wife: You can steal my money, fuck every one of my friends, mock me behind my back, plot my untimely (but clearly accidental) death, and make it obvious that when we're actually having sex, you'd rather me sodomize you with a cob of corn, as long as you promise to smile when we're in public and tell all the other broads I have a huge dick. In return, I'll pretend you're really not as much of a cunt as I know you are, and enjoy the fact that I am indeed married to a hot woman, and I do (occasionally) have marital-like relations with this hot woman. Being a dedicated fan of NCAA-sanctioned sports is pretty much the same kind of set up, except it's Myles Brand that's fucking you, and you really are being sodomized by the corn.

Middling analogies aside, I didn't mark my breaking my end of the deal by doing any huge expose on the seedy underworld of college athletics, because it's cliche and meaningless and every time I so much as suggested that something might be wrong with any college team, I felt like there was a chance I might lose my job. The funny thing about people who are still holding up their end of the bargain is that they never deny the truth of what it is you're saying; they simply say it's OK. Other schools are doing the same or worse. Kids will be kids. Coaches will be coaches. Athletic Directors have no choice. Universities need the money, prestige, TV audiences. It's for the fans. It's for the kids. And that you need to shut the fuck up, because your job isn't to ruin the fun for everyone else.

For a while, I argued with these people passionately in person, even if I allowed the pressure they put on my bosses (and, in turn, me) to stop me from trying to dig all the time professionally. I got tired of the coaches cutting off my access for the stories I needed to get done as part of my beat work, got tired of veiled threats from the athletic department, tired of the city's largest auto dealer threatening my "viability" in the town during a charity golf tournament, tired of football players trying to physically intimidate me at bars after writing that one of their teammates got busted for assaulting someone at a bar. Those people managed to spoil whatever willingness I had to look the other way and just enjoy the game. My last year in Pocatello, I probably watched seven games total, and just checked scores the rest of the time to see how my bracket was doing.

A few years out of the business has softened me a little, but not all that much. It doesn't help that this year's Arizona team is about as intimidating as Barry Gibb. But I'm going to at least try to see if I can recapture some of the excitement. It almost seems inappropriate to be so jaundiced toward the NCAA now that I'm no longer a sports writer (if I ever actually could have been considered one). I felt a little pang of jealousy while reading the Free Darko thing; I wouldn't mind getting into it, to be honest.


Reflection: That was a strange post.

Fuck you, St. You are an idiot who clearly has never watched a single minute of any sporting event in your life. Also: Fuck Mike Schmidt, Julius Erving, and short fiction writers as a motherfucking crew.

There ... better.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stridency: It's not just for "anonymous" bloggers anymore

I wonder what Brett Musberger would say about this little rant from Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll. Since BP has the temerity to call that part of its site a blog, I'm sure he thinks it strikes at the foundation of civilization.

For those of you who consider yourself baseball fans but don't check this site daily (if not pay for the membership so you can read all the premium content and peep the PECOTA cards, which have essentially rendered me useless since they came out in early Feb) are really missing out. It's not just for stat geeks; BP's best attribute is that it features a wide variety of writers, all of whom approach their respective stories with varying (and, often, nuanced) perspectives. Plus one of the managing editors is transgender! Tell me one other legitimate sports media outlet so progressive that it doesn't even blink over that ish.

I don't really know why I'm plugging the site so much, but I really do love it.

But since you probably want something interesting, here's a little bit of Steve Phillips sunshine on the Josh Hamilton situation:

I am not trying to be insensitive. In fact, I am rooting for Josh Hamilton to do very well. If I was a general manager I would want him in my organization to serve as an example of redemption and perseverance. I just wouldn't have picked him in the Rule 5 draft and made the statement that he deserves to be a major leaguer right now. It sends the wrong message to all of the hardworking, dedicated young men who are paying the price to get to the major leagues. Not to mention that it sends the wrong message to Hamilton.

Huh? This is a sports page, right? Between this and the impending Sports Illustrated cover story, I'm wondering if any sports writers would actually like to talk about sports some time. After all the moralistic hand-wringing over PEDs, I've had just about enough of these morons trying to ape Bill Bennett.

p.s. -- The Blogger spell check feature doesn't recognize the word "transgender." Can you believe these genderists, Smoove?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Layoff is over!

I can't speak for St., but I have been neck-deep in Baseball Prospectus 2007, and it's pretty much rendered me non-argumentative for the last few weeks. Plus, it's hard to be crotchety with the impending return of baseball season.

Of course, the return of the baseball season does have one downside: The return of stupid, ill-informed baseball writing!

Take, for instance, perpetual idiot Phil Rogers. He loves saying dumb things, because I think he views his occasional writing opps on as his lone opportunity to be dumber than colleagues like Steve Phillips, Wojo and Skip Bayless.

Want to hear something really dumb? Bemoaning the fact that the White Sox aren't going to torpedo the next five years by signing Mark "Phonetics" Buehrle and Jon Garland long-term. The column's title is particularly ironic, if you ask me.


It turns out the White Sox really aren't willing to turn over four of the five spots in the deep, durable starting rotation that has forced the American League to take them seriously. That's the good news about the Javier Vazquez signing.

OK. Whatever. Dumb way to begin. But I've seen worse.

The bad news is that they might become the first team in history to build around the back end of their rotation rather than the front of it.

This single paragraph made me almost shit out the delicious Wineburger and two Coors Lights I had for lunch and which currently preclude me from being productive at work. First of all, the concept of front/back ends to rotations has always been kind of silly; outside of opening day and the playoffs, the difference between a team's "No. 2" starter and "No. 4" starter is virtually imperceptible, particularly in terms of value. Contrary to widely held belief, No. 1s rarely match up, because schedules between teams vary to such a large degree. But even if Vasquez were legitimately the No. 4 or 5 starter for the White Sox -- he's really so, totally not, if that's an actual measure of quality -- does Rogers really think this is the first time in baseball history that a team has stuck with the "back" end of its rotation and allowed its more reputable, and likely soon-to-be-overpaid "aces" walk?

I know it's not possible that Rogers is exaggerating for effect here.

By failing to prioritize the signing of his most marketable arms, White Sox general manager Ken Williams has committed himself to constructing future rotations around Jose Contreras, the oldest of the five 2006 starters, and Vazquez, the only one of the five who has a losing career record (100-105, including 11-12 season a year ago). This tells you just how much Williams and his boss, Jerry Reinsdorf, hate it when agents have leverage.

This is good stuff, because Rogers is purposely writing in a pseudo-literate matter for the purpose of obfuscation. "Most marketable arms," is a hedge; that's not an issue of quality, it's an issue of popularity(?). Fuck, I really don't have any idea exactly what that means here; is it that Williams could trade Buehrle and Garland with greater ease when they inevitably continue to be average at best? Further, is Rogers positive that Williams' gambit here (if you really want to consider what he's doing to be something counter-intuitive, as opposed to blatantly obvious and correct) is the product of the respective pitchers' agents? Is it not possible, in Rogers' universe, that Williams would make the exact same decision all things being equal? Rogers' premise could be correct, but that he states it unequivocally bothers me to no end. But that could be the mid-day beer talking.

But here's where I'm sure to lose the audience: Rogers uses two really, really untelling numbers to lend credence to his "this is unwise" argument. One is Contreras' age, the other Vasquez's W-L record. Really? Conteras is 35, which is getting up there, but today's 35 is yesterday's 30. And of all the crazy things you could bring up about Vazquez's impossible-to-figure career, you bring up W-L records? In 2003, when Vazquez was arguably the best pitcher in the major leagues, he went 13-12. Know why? Because he played for the Montreal Fucking Expos, you cocksucker. See, now I'm getting mad. Vazquez has still spent more than 2/3 of his career with Canada's erstwhile second team; think that might have something to do with his fucking win-loss record, Rogers?

No? It's because he always "pitches good enough to lose." Godgoddammitdammit. Someone get me a ticket to Chicago and a vest of C4.

On the one hand, that's the way the business works. But on the other, it still seems remarkable that a team would fail to do some heavy lifting to keep home-grown foundation pieces like Buehrle and Garland.

Oh, shit, I forgot: Being "home-grown foundation pieces" means that ERAs of 4.99 and 4.51 (not to mention WHIPs of 1.45(!) and 1.36) are actually 32.7 percent less harmful to the team. It's scientific fact, dude, with, like, studies and shit done on it. 32.7 percent.

Yes, Buehrle might pitch badly again in 2007, as he did in the second half of '06. Then the Sox would look smart for not having invested in his future. But I don't think pitchers with his guts, command and presence come along very often, and I'm betting on the usual 15-plus victories and 200-plus innings this season.

Mark Buehrle career GCO3 (the "3" means its adjusted for all time): -27.4 (since this number removes the adverse effects of actual ERA, it's a negative).

Looking through, I notice that the only pitcher that comes close to Buehrle's career GCO3 is none other than Juan Guzman, my favorite pitcher as a kid. Who knew?

Also: Phil Rogers, I will take that bet, even though its stupid and based on two stats that are greatly controlled by people not named Mark Buehrle.

I compared those five guys to each other in each of the last three seasons based on victories, earned-run average and innings. Then I created a formula that weighted the 2005 rankings twice as heavily as '04, and the '06 rankings three times as heavily as '04, so that what happened last would influence the present value the most.

I've never gotten the feeling that Phil Rogers is an avowed hater o' stats, like some in his cohort. He's in the larger group of sportswriters who lightly mock sabermatricians (nerds!) and then, in moments of inspiration, decide to become "stat guys" for a second and embrace statistics to prove points. Almost universally, when they become "stat guys," they either choose meaningless stats, or they display levels of selection bias that would put a proponent of Intelligent Design to shame. In this case, Rogers shoots for the stars, and offends on both counts. Also, there's the added glee of imagining this douchebag hovering over an Excel spreadsheet, thinking he's created some kind of advanced formula that will once-and-for-all put to rest the timeless argument, "Which White Sox pitcher of the last three years has been most valuable." Men and women of the Brookings Institute, storm thy brains no more: Rogers done did it again.

Putting the three years together, Garland (48-28 with a 4.30 ERA) ranks first, with Buehrle sliding to third because of his bad second half in 2006. Garcia is second with Vazquez fourth, a whisker ahead of Contreras.

Well, that clears that up.

Before hitting on the end of Rogers digital diarrhea storm, I want to point out something: The best pitcher on this staff is probably Vazquez, in terms of talent and what can be reasonably expected of him the next few years. His ERA last season was really, really high for how well he pitched, and there's good reason to believe he's coming close to being as good as he was before the whole Yankees/falling apart debacle. But, Vazquez isn't Bob Gibson, either; he's been a league-average pitcher the past couple of years in terms of ERA, and while you can parse all you want with WHIP (which has been pretty good, and better than his counterparts on the White Sox) and his Ks (which could approach 200 this season, considering how he's trending), at the end of the day, ERA is still the best stat to use when reflecting on a pitcher's performance in the past (not including ERA+, which is a derivative and simply adds a little more context). But ERA is a poor stat for predicting future performance, which I'm giving credit to Kenny Williams for knowing. And, I have a feeling that Williams has concluded the same thing a lot of people around baseball have concluded: Of the five starters from the WS team of 05, only one -- Vazquez -- can be expected to repeat, not to mention better, his past performances. Garland and Contreras had fluke, everything-went-perfect seasons, and Buehrle's skills have eroded to the point where he's a better-paid version of Carlos Silva.

But, anyway, that's really unimportant. What is important is that somewhere along the way, it appears Phil Rogers forgot what he was talking about.

The beauty of the Sox's rotation during the back-to-back seasons of 90-plus victories has been its depth. Line the starters up in almost any order and it was hard to be wrong.

Then why not just keep the guys who are easiest to sign?

Seems to me that's what the Sox are doing.