We talkin’ bout practice

The classic Iverson practice rant in honor of his jersey number retirement ceremony tonight in Philadelphia. And check this out for some of his best plays:

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Oscars 2014: Predictions and My Favorites

2013 was considered by almost everyone as an awesome year for movies. I saw many more movies this year than I have previously, and I agree with this sentiment. So, I am actually interested in the Oscars on Sunday. Here are my predictions for some of the major categories, and my personal favorites in those categories. (NOTE: I didn’t see every movie nominated for these categories, though I did see a lot of them.)

Best Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

Prediction- Jared Leto. Although I didn’t like this performance at all (way too over the top), it seems like Leto is a lock.

My favorite- Michael Fassbender. Fassbender was excellent in this great movie, but has very little chance of winning. Mark Harris on Grantland made an interesting point about Fassbender, saying that the Academy will not want to make itself look bad by giving a white performer from a movie about slavery an Acting award.

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
June Squibb, Nebraska

Prediction and my favorite- Lupita Nyong’o. Great performance here. I think that the Academy will want to reward one of the actors from 12 Years a Slave, and I think Nyong’o is in the weakest category of the actors.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

Prediction and my favorite- 12 Years a Slave. Powerful script, with some great, subtle passages. The tension between the white slave owners and the slaves is so noticeable, and not just through the visuals.

Best Original Screenplay:

Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

Prediction- American Hustle. An Academy favorite, though I didn’t like it very much.

My favorite- Her. I really liked this movie, although the screenplay was not amazing. It was certainly good. My favorite screenplay of the whole year was Inside Llewyn Davis, which did not get a single nomination in a major category.

Best Actor:

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club- Excellent performance, and the probable winner. The Academy loves when someone has to change their appearance for a role. Recent examples of this include Anne Hathawy for Les Mis and Christian Bale for The Fighter.  McConaughey carries this movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street- Maybe Leo’s best performance, up there with The Departed and Blood Diamond. Magnetic, charismatic, shocking, Leo proves again that he can play a movie star role with the skill of the best character actor around.

Christian Bale, American Hustle- My least favorite nominee out of the 4 that I saw. He was fine, but was nowhere near the class of the other 3, and American Hustle was the worst movie out of 12 Years, Wolf and DBC.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave- An amazing, reserved performance. Ejiofor will probably lose out to either Dicaprio or McConaughey in the end because his performance was much less flashy, and the voters will probably want to reward multiple movies with the top award instead of giving everything to 12 Years.

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Sidebar: Oscar Issac for Inside Llewyn Davis was totally ripped off for his amazing job as the title character, somehow putting some humanity into a dreadful, horrible person. And he sings live during the movie. Probably my favorite performance of the year.

Best Actress: only saw one of these performances (Amy Adams in American Hustle) so I can’t say which my favorite was. That being said, it seems like Cate Blanchett is a lock for Blue Jasmine.

Best Director:

Alexander Payne, Nebraska- Didn’t see it.

Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street- Scorsese directs another great movie here, although one that is probably too polarizing to win Scorsese the award. Some classic Marty touches here.

David O. Russell, American Hustle- I like Russell a lot. I think he does a really good job in Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter. But he can’t find a movie plot or any kind of climax here in the mess on display. 

Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave– A remarkable job, but one that won’t win him the award. McQueen puts a remarkable stamp on the movie, overseeing some amazing shots of the swamplands in Louisiana and depicting the struggle of slaves in such an intense, vulnerable way.

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity– This technical masterpiece will win Cuarón the award. Without him, Gravity could not exist. He is truly a visionary filmmaker, previously making my favorite movie, 2006’s Children of Men. His extraordinary cinematography is on display here again.

Best Picture:

Dallas Buyers Club– Very good movie, though probably doesn’t deserve to be nominated. Without McConaughey, it flops.
Nebraska– Didn’t see it.
Captain Phillips– Great movie, but no chance to win. A couple of stellar performances, particularly from Tom Hanks and the nominated Barkhad Abdi.
Philomena– Didn’t see it.
The Wolf of Wall Street– a glorious debauchery, with Leo at his finest and excellent performances from the supporting class, including Johan Hill, McConaughey (this guy owned 2013, and has started out 2014 well with True Detective) and a great cameo from Rob Reiner. Too polarizing to win, although in 20 years may be the 2nd most remembered movie from 2013.
Her- Cool atmosphere, with some awesome performances, especially from Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johanson. Spike Jonze does a great job of setting this futuristic atmosphere where technology is sentient.

American Hustle– a mess of a movie that would crash without the great performances, especially from Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, and Bradley Cooper. But the two leads (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) aren’t as good as the Academy says, and there is very little climax. A lot of show, but little substance.

Gravity-  A visual masterpiece, although not a good enough movie to win. Some great cinematography, but the script is weak, which will hurt it come Sunday.

12 Years a Slave– The best movie of the year, and should certainly win the award. This movie is extraordinary, combining great performances with an amazing script and and vibrant atmosphere. In a year when many of the other favorites (Hustle, Wolf, Gravity, DBC) were flashy, 12 Years will win off of the back of its reserved script which is far more powerful than any other script this year.

Final note: Inside Llewyn Davis was totally ripped off. I think that it is the only movie that compares to 12 Years. It has amazing things to say about life in general, and making art in particular. And some great backup performances from John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and Carey Mulligan. The Coen brothers have made some fantastic movies, from The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men to Fargo, but I think that this is their best movie.

Favorite of 2013: Music

Music was good back in 2013. Some old faves got back in the games, and some new faces popped up to much fanfare. Here is my favorite music of 2013.

NOTE: I obviously did not listen to every single piece of music released this year. No one did. So, I probably missed some big albums. That is why this is a favorite list, not a best list.

Favorite Albums:

Honorable Mention: A$AP Rocky, LONG.LIVE.A$AP; Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt; Logic, Young Sinatra: Welcome to Forever

10. RFA, Just Don’t Turn the Lights On- This is the first EP from my good friends’ band. Yeah, they are my friends, so I’m biased. But Lights On is amazing. RFA come straight from the Arctic Monkeys/ Strokes vein: polished garage rock. These guys play it loud and fast, but their songs are so tight and sleek. Frontman Dan Cousart shows a lot of songwriting abilities and pens some beautiful melodies. I can’t wait until their next release.

9. Jim James, Regions of Light and Sound- My favorite musician released his first solo effort this year. James, the singer/songwriter/ guitarist/mystical shaman of My Morning Jacket returns to his soul roots for his debut solo disk. He sings a falsetto like a classic soul crooner. “A New Life” is one of my favorite songs of the year, a groovy tribute to James’ R&B roots.

8. Atoms For Peace, Amok – Thom Yorke of Radiohead plus Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers? Yes please. This power duo makes the strangest music this year besides Kanye West. Even more strangely, Flea’s deliciously funky bass and Yorke’s soothing yet creepy voice complement each other perfectly. Backed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and R.E.M. and Beck drummer Joey Waronker, the super group creates an awesome blend of funk and synth rock, best demonstrated by “Before Your Very Eyes…”

7. Lorde, Pure Heroine- Damn, this girl can sing. Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, only 17 years old (hey, that means I have a chance!!! Yaayyy! Ella, go to prom with me!), brings powerful pipes straight from New Zealand. Lorde crafts the perfect 2013 pop album: lyrics ripping our commercial society, with minimalist music in the background. Lorde has a ton of potential; her songwriting and lyrics are already light years ahead of contemporaries like Lana Del Ray or Haim.

6. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name- Menacing, intense, simple, polished. Pusha T’s solo debut is a throwback to some of hip hop classics. No one tells better stories about the street than King Push. His vivid vignettes of street life and success in both the rap and drug games fill the album. Plus, Push’s simple delivery and clever wordplay gives him one of the best flows around. His song “Nosetalgia” with Kendrick Lamar is my favorite rap song of the year.

5. Vic Mensa, Innanetape- It is interesting to thing of Vic Mensa as simply a happier Pusha T. However, that does Vic a grave injustice. The Chicago kid delivers a phenomenal mixtape, taking similar themes to Pusha and adding upbeat sounds to them. His rhyming and J Cole-like flow lets his stories shine. From “Lovely Day” to “Fear and Doubt”, Vic demonstrates his maturity and massive potential. Will soon be considered one of the best in the game, along side…

4. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap- The boldest, most confident record of the year, even over Yeezus, strictly because of his age. A 20 year old should not be this confident or mature. But Chance the Rapper delivers a knockout with Acid Rap. Maybe the first “psychedelic” rap album, Chance combines early Kanye with funky, acidic sounds to form a blend of music I have never heard before. Plus, Chance is one of the best rhymers already in rap. He shines on songs like “Good Ass Job”, “Interlude”, “Chain Smokin'”, and “Cocoa Butter Kisses” (with Vic Mensa). A dazzling debut, which while it took me a while to like, is now one of my favorite rap albums ever.

3. Kanye West, Yeezus- Brilliance in a CD. Brilliance personified in a musician. Kanye is truly a musical genius. Like, John Lennon/Bob Dylan/Kurt Cobain genius. Minimalist to its core, it took me a while to get into Yeezus. When I did, I was floored. Hypnotizing beats on songs like “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves”, and “On Sight” are everywhere. Lyrically, Kanye delivers his most interesting album since College Dropout, meditating on being a father and a role model in the black community while lacing his lines full of braggadocio. Yeezus reaches its climax at the last song, “Bound 2”, a return to vintage soul-Kanye. Brilliance. If only it was a little poppier, it would have easily been #1 on this list.

2. Arctic Monkeys, AM- The record that got me the most excited this year (see favorite moments, #2), this was the album where one of my favorite bands became my favorite bands again. Poppy, sleek, AM is easily their best disk since their classic debut, filled with metal, hip hop, and soul influences. Alex Turner is back to his songwriting best, penning his always clever lyrics along with reinvigorated melodies and heavy but poppy guitar lines. The rhythm section is back to its finest, and the whole band is riffing like it is 2006. AM boasts the usual excellent heavier Arctic Monkeys song like “Do I Wanna Know” and “Arabella”, but Alex Turner shows a great proficiency with ballads like “Mad Sounds” and my favorite, “No. 1 Party Anthem”. A blast of pure pop metal.

1. The National, Trouble Will Find Me- No album this year was as deep as Trouble Will Find Me. Every song had a legitimate chance at being on my best songs list, at the least the honorable mention. Tom Berninger and company retain the title of the World’s Saddest Band; however, this time singer Berninger’s melancholy lyrics and beautiful baritone are matched with much faster pace music. The combination works excellently; faster songs like “Humiliation”, “This Is The Last Time”, and “Sea of Love” thrive. As always, The National finish the album spectacularly, with haunting ballad and my favorite song “I Need My Girl” followed by “Humiliation”, the longing “Pink Rabbits”, and the somber “Hard to Find”. The band is excellent, playing simply and letting Berninger’s voice be the star of the show, replete with added range. The best 2013 has to offer.

Worst Album:

NOTE: I did not call this Least Favorite Album because this album truly is the worst album. Period

1. Jay Z, Magna Carter Holy Grail- The whole process, from marketing to recording to listening, was terrible. There is nothing good about this album, except maybe “Somewhereinamerica” if we ignore that unfortunate and unnecessary “Twerk Miley” line. Hova hits a new low year. With nothing more to sing about other than designer clothes (BURN IN HELL “TOM FORD”), Jay is obviously just going for the money. Shameful. Retire for real buddy. You still have The Black Album. Also, terrible album name.

Most Overrated Album:

2. Eminem, The Marshal Mathers LP 2:- Don’t understand what all of the hype is about. Yeah, Eminem is back, and he is now “nice”. He’s even apologizing to his mom! But I’ve always said that Em is best when he is mad. All of the anger on this album is faked. Even a song like “Rap God” doesn’t feel like real Slim. The Real Slim Shady would never have to say that he is a Rap God, because the Real Slimy Shady doesn’t care about anyone’s opinion. While not offensively bad like Holy Grail, MMLP2 is just… ok.

1. Arcade Fire, Reflektor: – Arcade Fire isn’t groovy. I love their other three albums, especially The Suburbs. But they aren’t groovy, or funky, or anything like that. Arcade Fire sound distinctly un-Arcade Fire on this record: too funky, not tight enough, not nearly poppy enough. And I’m becoming sick of the existentialist lyrics too. They just tried too hard here. In a year when being a minimalist was a huge trend  (Kanye West, Pusha T, Lorde), Arcade Fire tried to make the formula more complex. It didn’t work.

Best songs:

NOTE: I only put one song from a single artist on my top 19 in order to have more variety. So apologies to Kanye, Arctic Monkeys, Vic Mensa, The National, and a couple others.

Honorable mention: Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know”; The National, “Heavenfaced”, “Pink Rabbits”, “Slipped”, and basically the whole album; Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves”; Vic Mensa, “Lovely Day”; Chance the Rapper, “Interlude”; One Direction (I know!) “Story of My Life”; Atmosphere, “Bob Seger”; Logic, “Welcome to Forever”

19. Lorde, “Ribs”- Beautiful melody and harmony from this New Zealand prodigy.

18. Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”- JT’s best showing from a decent first disk, though the second wasn’t nearly as strong (the only reason it isn’t on my best albums list). A poor man’s “What Goes Around”.

17. Logic, “Nasty”- While not heralded as Chance or Vic, Logic is very talented in his own right. He is amazing on this track. Nasty.

16. A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, “F****n’ Problems”- Banger of the summer, which led to some great lines. And of course Kendrick.

15. Lupe Fiasco ft. Ed Sheeran, “Old School Love”- Lupe delivered a couple good songs in an off year for him with no new album. Back to vintage Lupe, and Sheeran is strong in the chorus.

14. One Direction, “Little Black Dress”- Yeah. NO SHAME. 1D’s Niall Horan really rocks out here, delivering a great power-pop song.

13. Jim James, “A New Life”- Epitomizes Yim Yames’ love of soul. His sweet falsetto never sounded better.

12. Chance the Rapper, “Good Ass Job”- The opener the “Acid Rap”, confidence ebbs off this track. Chance delivers some of his trademark rhyming and Drake-like sing-rapping. Those horns tho.

11. Atoms for Peace, “Before Your Very Eyes…”- Definition of snyth-funk rock. Just a sexy song. Yorke kills the vocals, and Flea is just unleashed with a sick bass line.

10. RFA, “Just Don’t Turn the Lights On”- A garage rock classic. So polished, so tight. I don’t care what anyone says: better than the Strokes.

9. Vic Mensa ft. Kenna and Joey Purp, “Fear and Doubt”- Best tune from Vic’s stellar mixtape. His introspective lyrics and great flow fit this excellent beat. Brimming with potential.

8. Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica, “Control”- Decent verses from Big Sean and Jay Electron. Pretty nice beat. And then there is Kendrick. Stunning, spectacular, amazing: these words do not do his verse justice. While I love introspective Kendrick the most, angry Kendrick isn’t bad.

7. Pearl Jam, “Sirens”- Good ole’ Eddie Vedder is back to his ballad-writing best here. He doesn’t have the range of his younger years which made him my favorite vocalist every, but he has heart in spades. Classic Pearl Jam.

6. Kings of Leon, “Wait For Me”- On a terribly disappointing album (their second in a row actually), “Wait For Me” is easily the best track. Caleb Followill sounds as good as ever, and you can hear a trace of their earlier records here.

5. Pusha T feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Nosetalgia”- If Pusha’s album is menacing, its 50% because of this track, my favorite traditional rap song of the year. An old school 90s beat. Two MCs sharing tales of the street. Kendrick delivers my favorite verse of the year here, displaying some dizzying wordplay. Two of the best at the top of their games.

4. Arctic Monkeys, “No. 1 Party Anthem”- Yes, the title may be a misnomer. But this song still rocks. The best ballad Arctic Monkeys ever wrote, Alex Turner sounds majestic here, full of longing. One of the catchiest songs of the year. Turner showcases his impressive range here, giving a memorable chorus.

3. Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”- This isn’t a rap song. Nevertheless, this is a great song. On an album that underwhelmed me, much like Drake in general, “Hold On” is a great example of how some of these new rappers implement different vocal styles. And that chorus, ooh. Catchiest song of the year.

2. The National, “I Need My Girl”- Haunting. The very definition of The National. Berninger shines like he never has before on this track. The rest of the band is excellent as always. The 2013 song I sing the most. Most memorable part of any song this year: the chorus. Magnificent.

1.Kanye West, “Bound 2”- A glorious song. Yes, you may say I am a wimp for not picking one of Kanye’s other less poppy songs on Yeezus. But this song is just a stunner. It’s old-school Kanye at his finest, circa College Dropout, and then throw in some great lyrics about love and self-doubt. Just a brilliant song, and a brilliant ending to one of the albums of the year.

Favorite moments:

5. Discovering new up-and-coming rappers at the end of the year: in November and December, I finally downloaded mixtapes by Chance, Vic, and Logic. These guys are now three of my favorite rappers out there. I am very excited to see what they do next.

4.Finally liking Yeezus: it took me a while, like 5 listens, but eventually I found myself hypnotized by Yeezus. While it is certainly not my favorite Kanye disc (it’s tied for 3rd with Late Registration and behind The College Dropout and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), it is a visionary album.

3. Hearing Kendrick for the first time on “Control”: mindblowing verse. It actually wasn’t my favorite K-dot verse of the year (see “Nosetalgia”) but it is hypnotizing all the same. My favorite part is probably the “King of New York” section. Bold prediction: by the time he is done, Kendrick Lamar will be the Greatest Rapper of All Time.

2. Hearing AM for the first time: this was the most excited I have been to hear a new album in a long time. Arctic Monkeys are one of my favorite bands, and I feel very sentimental about them because I have liked them since the beginning. But their middle 3 albums were disappointing. AM was amazing, and I have rediscovered my love for Alex Turner and his band from Sheffield, England.

1. Seeing RFA live in concert: yeah, it was technically in 2014. But I will put it as part of 2013 since the band played their whole 2013 EP, along with some Killers, Vampire Weekend, and ended with an awesome version of “Wild Thing”. Awesome night. The guys brought a ton of energy, and they are so polished.

Best cover art (look these up):

5. Trouble Will Find Me: What? I don’t even know. Just a great cover. Really weird but great.

4. Yeezus: fits the album so well. The definition of minimalism.

3. Acid Rap: exudes the confidence that Chance has in spades on his breakthrough mixtape. Trippy and awesome.

2. Innatetape: has that classic hip-hop feel. Just looks classy and street-like.

1. Just Don’t Turn the Lights On: inside story. The flamingo is the best.

Music MVPs (credit to Rap Genius for the name):

Honorable mentions: Kendrick Lamar: even in a year with no album, he dominated. Two of the best verses of the year. The best in the game.

Vic Mensa: bringing more style to the game. This kid got game. Chicago hip hop is taking over: Kanye, Vic, Chance, Lupe.

5. Pusha T: finally released that first solo album. It was worth the weight. He was definitely best known for working with Kanye on songs like “Runaway”, or for being in the group Clipse with his brother (they made the song “Grindin'” you probably know from back in the day). Hopefully My Name Is My Name will allow King Push to really start to pave his own path.

4. Tom Berninger: pushed his vocal and songwriting boundaries this year, and was rewarded with a fantastic album The National have cemented themselves as one of my favorite bands. With his vocals, The National would not be the same.

3. Alex Turner: went back to basics, and was rewarded. AM is a genius album, bringing together so many influences and still sounding like an incredibly tight, polished record. Turner also wrote some of his best lyrics this time around. An incredibly talented individual with an incredibly talented band around him, Turner has lead these misfits from a poor English town to an essential place in music culture.

2. Chance the Rapper: just a bold performance from someone who can’t legally drink yet. Acid Rap will probably go down as the most important CD of this year, certainly in hip hop circles. Chance demonstrated some of his massive talent. His potential seems limitless. He could become that Kanye-Kendrick combo: combining both visionary music with top notch rapping skills.

1. Kanye West: the most innovative, most talented musician alive today. 50 years ago he would have been a culturally aware Jimi Hendrix; 20 years he could have spearheaded the grunge movement or become the first gangsta rapper with a conscience, the Tupac of Chicago. Instead he is pushing rap and music to places it has never been before. After two flamboyant records, Kanye went the exact opposite direction with Yeezus. A brilliant musician and seemingly full of fuel, Kanye isn’t done yet.

Philadelphia Union Preview Part 1: New Faces

2013 was a tough year to be a Union fan. The team, while picking up many good results that saw it in the race for playoff spots until the final day of the season, played ugly soccer and seemed to win many games because of luck rather than outplaying their opponents. About midway through the season, the Union had a chance to seize control over the Eastern Conference playoff race, as other top teams like New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City were faltering. However, the Union failed to take advantage of this opportunity, and ended up just short of the playoffs. Every Union fan knew that massive changes were needed in order to improve the quality of the squad, in particular in midfield, where none of the usual starters were quality passers. But past poor performances in the offseason by the Union’s front office did not give the fan base much hope that the U would significantly improve before their first game on March 8th against the vaunted Portland Timbers and their rabid home fans.

Boy, were Union fans wrong.

The Union have had a nothing less than stunning offseason. Not only have the finally spent money on quality midfielders who can do more than run a lot (like, maybe, pass), they have been aggressive in both foreign and domestic markets to improve almost every inefficiency on the team. This effort to improve has most Philadelphians feeling very good about the upcoming season. In a few parts, I will explain why the 2014 season will feature the best Union team to date, and why the Union should certainly make the playoffs this year. Today I will look at the top 5 new players, and how they will impact the squad.

5. Andre Blake- The 1st overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft, Blake has a ton of potential. Some MLS analysts have hailed Blake as the best keeper product in the league since Brad Guzan, who now plays for Aston Villa in the English Premier League and is the backup keeper for the United States National Team. Blake is an excellent athlete; however, the thing that really helps him stand out is his maturity and reading of the game. This often does not develop in goal until later in one’s career, and it is an essential skill to have because a goalie must organize his backline well.

4. Cristian Maidana- This tricky Argentine winger has the potential to fill a huge hole for the Union this season- the left wing. Maidana has the technical ability to come back and help the U maintain possession, while also boasting the speed and directness to attack the other side’s goal or isolate the other team’s fullback one on one. Maidana will bring much needed flair to the side.

3. Austin Berry- Berry, the newest player on the squad, was just picked up in a trade with the Chicago Fire. A rugged, 6’2” defender, Berry has played in over 60 consecutive games for the Fire, and played every minute of last season for the squad, while winning Rookie of the Year the year before. The importance of this addition cannot be understated; he is a perfect partner for the smaller, quicker Amobi Okugo (who is poised to have a breakout year). Berry will help the U boast one of the 5 best defenses in the league.

2. Vincent Nogueira- This French midfielder will have a huge impact on making the U play more attractive soccer. He is an excellent passer, mobile, and is able to play both attack and defense. The 26-year old is also a great leader, as he was captain for French side Sochaux for many years. A team can never have enough technical midfielders on its roster, and Nogueira will certainly prove his quality this season as he is asked to play an important central attacking role.

1. Maurice Edu- The biggest splash of the offseason for the Union, Maurice Edu is a former national team player who has not played too much in recent years after signing with Stoke City of England. However, do not think that Edu has nothing to offer; he is an incredibly talented player who can do everything in midfield. The pair of him and Nogueira will rapidly change the side. As great soccer coach Jaunma Lillo once said, “Tell me who your central midfielder is, and I’ll tell you what sort of team you are.” The Union are poised to find out the truth of that statement in a great way. Central midfield is the most important position on the field, and the Union have just increased their talent there exponentially.

NEXT TIME: a look at the broader Union roster, its coaching staff, and strategy.

The One Who Knocked: The End of Walter White and Breaking Bad

Yes, I am aware that Breaking Bad ended like 6 years ago now or whatever. But it has taken me awhile to gather my thoughts. How could I accurately summarize what Breaking Bad means to me, and what messages it sends to the wider community, only a few days after it ended?

So, I first think about the finale, a piece of television perfection while not terribly risky in its storytelling. The final season, and “Felina” in particular, provided a needed reciprocity for its viewers: it drew us back to the main story, that of the death of Walter White. Over the course of 5 seasons, fabulous performances by Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring, Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, and Jesse Plemons’ Todd Alquist, among others, made its fans forget that Walter White was always the focus. Unlike other great shows like The Wire, which features many characters that can function without being directly related to the main character, every character on Breaking Bad is there because of Walter White, from Saul Goodman to Gretchen Schwartz. Even Jesse, while compelling and could feature as the lead character in a series of his own, would not live in the Breaking Bad universe without Walt. Walt was the one who knocked on each of their doors, except he gave them their stories instead of a bullet.

This is why Breaking Bad is arguably the greatest television show of all time. Its structure of relying solely on one character was unprecedented. In fact, Breaking Bad was more like an epic piece of literature than a television show. It operated on far too grand of a scale to be classified in the same vein as The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, or even Mad Men. It was too well written, too tightly connected to be considered part of the silver screen. In a way, Breaking Bad is a reflection of Walt himself. Walt was too smart to be a chemistry teacher, too ambitious to stop at small-time meth peddler, too resentful to not enter the “empire business”. He could not be classified as just a meth king because he was too grand to be one. He had to be a god.

Up until the finale, both Breaking Bad and Walt operated on the premise of not accepting any bonds restricting them. Breaking Bad always pushed the envelope, thematically and structurally. Showrunner Vince Gilligan used innovative camera angles and deliberate song choices in order to set each specific emotion he needed from a scene. The writers pulled no punches, from the deaths of Jesse’s girlfriends to arguably the greatest scene in the show, Walt’s showdown with Hank. Every other show would have stopped as soon as Walt left the garage. But Gilligan would not tread lightly, knowing that Breaking Bad could not stop there. He knew there was a emotional firecracker ready to be ignited. For his boldness he received a stunning scene, one all of its viewers had waited for until it was ripe enough to be tasted. Oh, was it sweet. On the other hand, Walter was just as groundbreaking as his show. From the death of Gus Fring, to the lily of the valley, to the brutal prison hit, Walt would not be confined by traditional boundaries. He was always looking to go a step further, to truly embody the name Heisenberg- the uncertainty principle.

But, in fact, Walt’s fatal flaw was that he was never Heisenberg. He was never uncertain. After murdering Gus, Heisenberg’s ingenuity seemed to vanish, and Walt’s morality returned. When he became the kingpin, he suddenly became bored. One of the great scenes of Breaking Bad was the montage at the end of “Gliding All Over”, the finale of the 1st half of the final season. Walt has finally become Heisenberg: he has total control over a multi-million dollar drug industry with no one to answer to. However, he is bored by being the boss. The montage features the drug production, planes flying the drugs to their location, counting money. But Walt was not satisfied by this monotonous routine. He was never satisfied by the status quo, whether that was being a high school chemistry teacher or a drug overlord. He always had to move on. So he leaves it all behind, including his ingenious, sinister formula for methamphetamine and millions and millions of cash. He walks away.

But, for his health, Walt should have never left the meth industry. An interesting feature of Walt was that whenever he was not cooking meth, his cancer was at his worst. His cancer, while of the lung, was also of the heart. Years and years of subconscious regret and resentment had damaged his heart dearly. The cancer would go into remission when he not only had an outlet for his resentment, but also had an occupation he truly loved. The combination of his narcissism and his intellectual nature would mean that he would never be fulfilled by family. While Walt loved his family, he loved them strictly because it gave him a safety net and an internal reason to justify his evil actions.

The most important scene of Breaking Bad, in fact, involves family. Skyler has just hung up on her sister Marie, and now must face a bearded Walt standing in her kitchen. The conversation starts out as a typical talk between the couple: Walt asks for something from Skyler, while she is skeptical of his plans. Walt then assures her continued safety, like always. However, all changes when Walt decides to finally tell what his motivations were for becoming who he is now. Skyler cuts him off, not wanting to hear him again say that he did everything for his family. But Walt calmly responds, saying “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was, really… I was alive.”

I think that people have forgotten a key detail regarding this scene and the previous episode, “Granite State”: “Granite State” was months in Breaking Bad time. Walt was all alone in a cabin for months, getting cancer treatments and playing solitare while enjoying occasional strolls down a mountain side. He had all of the time in the world to think, think about his actions and why he did them. That is when he came to the conclusion, at least consciously, that he had done everything for himself. It was never for the money or for his family. It was to feel alive. After being forced to leave his brain child, Grey Matter, and stooping to teach high school students chemistry, Walt was dead inside. He needed a spark. He needed some motivation to become alive again.

Up until the finale, I thought that Walt had died internally a long time ago. But after seeing the final scene, with his blood-soaked hand staining his meth equipment, I realized that he was alive the whole time, in his life’s work. It was in viewing the parts of his life that could not provide an outlet his resentful, intellectual nature- his family, working at the car wash, teaching chemistry- that Walter seemed as dead as the many men he had disposed of over the years. The only thing separating Walt’s body from the ground was his cozy hydrofluoric acid bath. But the meth-making reinvigorated him, gave him new purpose. He wanted a legacy, and he got one. During the 5th season, Walt is doing something he often must during Breaking Bad– negotiating a drug deal. Walt tells Declan, the drug distributor, to “Say my name”. Declan meekly replies, “Heisenberg”, which causes Walt to break out into a huge grin and growl, “You’re damn right.” Walt revels in knowing that he is so threatening, so infamous, so known. But there is nothing he wanted more in that instant than to say who he really was: Walter White, not Heisenberg.

In the very first episode of Breaking Bad, Walt tells a class of disinterested chemistry students that “Chemistry is the study of change, of transformation!” In fact, that is what Breaking Bad is all about. Transformation and change. Until the finale, however, I thought it was internal change that Walt was referring to. But it was actually an external change- the cancer. The key was how Walt responded. He could have bowed down and died physically, as he was already dead emotionally. But Walt’s ego and his resentment would not let him just give up. Those parts of him wanted to prove to the world that he was still a genius. He wanted a legacy. So, Walt was able to transcend cancer, both physical and emotional. A wise man named Mike Ehrmantraut once told him, “No more half-measures.” Walt took that to heart. In the end, Walt suceeded. He built himself his legacy. After all, that’s what people in the empire business do.

Comeback Story? Kings of Leon Disappoint Again

A few years ago, it seemed that Kings of Leon were poised to take over the world. Arguably, they were the biggest band in the world after their hit 2008 album Only By The Night. “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” were huge hits, getting massive airtime and generally ruling the end of 2008. It featured strong, catchy instrumentals, combining driving guitar riffs with Caleb Followill’s pure, emotional voice. He shines on ballads like “Closer” and “Cold Dessert”, and his bluesy, southern voice fits well their earlier style on tracks like “California Waiting” and “The Bucket”.

One thing Caleb Followill is not, however, is a great songwriter. He has never been accused of writing insightful lyrics. Although they have moved away from their mix of Southern rock and Strokes-alternative music, their music is not incredibly imaginative either. So now, on their 6th album, it seems like the band is running out of ideas. Their new album, Mechanical Bull, is the same bland mix of mid-80s U2 alt-rock and a ballad here and there. In fact, this predictable blend is the same thing that sunk their last album, Come Around Sundown. And while Bono and the Edge have also never been accused of being great songwriters, at least they are a little more imaginative.

The album does have its highlights, like all albums which are made by musicians with this much talent. “Temple” is a rocking throwback to “California Waiting”, and “Wait for Me” is a really pretty stadium tune. But overall, this album is just mediocre. The decent instrumental work by the other members of the Followill clan (Matthew on guitar, Nathan on drums and Jared on bass) and Caleb’s piercing voice can’t make up for the lack of quality songwriting. Caleb’s lyrics are particularly brutal this time around: “I walk a mile in your shoes/ And now I’m a mile away/ And I’ve got your shoes” (contender for worst lyric of the year).

What Kings of Leon really need is a reinvention. They have reused the same formula over and over again in the early part of their career, and eventually that formula gets stale. Even bands with more talented musicians, kind of famous bands like THE BEATLES, RADIOHEAD, and THE ROLLING STONES all changed their styles multiple times. U2 are a decent comparison here. They were a band who, after emerging on the scene with a rawer style, broke out after turning more mainstream. Then they went into a decline in the mid 80s while their songwriting stagnated. Albums like Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum struggled because of their predictability.  But after they became more creative with their songwriting, they made their best album, 1991’s Achtung Baby. Kings of Leon are currently in their stagnation period. They could use a reinvention, and fast. They have the talent to be a great band, one that can combine the raw talent of Caleb Followill with the polish of the band’s musicians. Until then, they will continue to release bland material like Mechanical Bull.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Arctic Monkeys Come Full Circle

I’m baaaaaccckkkkk.

Sorry that I’ve been away. I’ve been busy with other stuff. So, yeah. Awful excuse, but that’s the one I got. PSA concerning this site: now that NBA season is coming up, I will be posting A LOT more.

But until then, on to music, more specifically, the Arctic Monkeys. The band out of Sheffield, England just released their 5th studio album, AM. After a few albums that were difficult to listen to completely (namely, 2009’s Humbug and 2011’s Suck It And See) because of the departure in style from their fabulous 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, AM has improved on the style of its immediate predecessors while returning to the bands’ roots and incorporating a new blend of influence from metal to hip hop.

Whatever People Say I Am was a transcendent record. It inspired people, much like the Velvet Underground’s classic, Velvet Underground and Nico, “to start a band” as music great Brian Eno once said. The album became the fastest-selling debut album in UK history, moving 360,000 copies in one week. In case you were unsure, that total beats other British acts the THE BEATLES, THE ROLLING STONES, LED ZEPPELIN and THE CLASH. And this happened during an age when the CD has lost a lot of its luster as compared to the glory days of the second half of the 20th century. This raw, enthusiastic album seemed so genuine. Hit singles like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and “When the Sun Goes Down” kept college kids dancing for months. It seemed inevitable that the Arctic Monkeys would conquer America.

But they didn’t. It is not like they released any terrible albums. They just didn’t catch on. The band moved on from its early, garage-fueled, raw guitar-sounding days to a fusion of Joy Division and later stage British pop. However, on albums like Humbug, Suck It and See, and 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare, the Arctic Monkeys lost most of the pop element from their music while adding to its complexity. Not a very appealing type of music.

However, on AM, Alex Turner and co. morph all of their prior influences into a catchy, rocking blend. From the pop punk of the two opening songs, “Do I Wanna Know?” and “R U Mine?” to their classic ballads like “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Fireside”, the band simplifies the formula, playing just simple guitar riffs and simple melodies. Turner was particularly mature in moving away from some of their more complex ideas that appeared on albums like Favourite Worst Nightmare. He composed a really tight, catchy album here, drawing from metal influences like Black Sabbath and Queens of the Stone Age while throwing in some Green Day pop punk riffs. He also sounds excellent as always, on both vocals and lead guitar, and bassist Nick O’Malley cooks up some delicious bass lines.

Overall, Arctic Monkeys have released one of the best albums of the year, and one of the best punk albums in a long while. And while they may never conquer America, at least people can get excited about the band again.

4 Stars

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