Monthly Archives: December 2011

last words for 2011: top 20 albums.

Once again, friend and fellow music fan Andrew Careaga asked me to participate in his HigherEd Music Critics combined countdown this year. I submitted a Sweet 16 for him, but have since caught additional new music to expand to a Top 20.

20. Wilco, “The Whole Love.” Jeff Tweedy’s most self-indulgent work since “A Ghost Is Born,” but at least the new album is more listenable.

19. Rachel Yamagata, “Chesapeake.” I keep waiting for Yamagata’s material to catch up with her voice, which is warm and sweet as honey. Still waiting, but it’s not the worst wait in the world.

18. Death Cab for Cutie, “Codes and Keys.” This is a comfortable and tidy record, which is to say fairly uninteresting in Death Cab for Cutie terms. Is it wrong to muse that Ben Gibbard’s breakup with Zooey Deschanel may bring DCfC back to better material?

17. Lenka, “Two.” Lenka’s follow-up to her smashing self-titled debut is a bit of a step back. In shooting for an album of love songs with more electronica/dance touches, she still brings a fine voice but some of the material comes across as lightweight.

16. The Roots, “Undun.” This will garner a lot of critical raves, and it has some very good moments, but Us3 and Digable Planets were crafting similar brands of hip hop fusion nearly 20 years ago. And arguably doing it better.

15, The Rural Alberta Advantage, “Departing.” I generally liken them to a Canadian version of Neutral Milk Hotel, and while the RAA’s second full-length album isn’t as good as their debut “Hometowns,” it’s an intriguingly offbeat effort.

14. Drive-By Truckers, “Go Go Boots.” Any album by the Athens, Ga. roots rockers is bound to contain wonderfully twisted storylines, cheating lovers and dead bodies. In that context, this album does not disappoint.

13. Ryan Adams, “Ashes and Fire.” It takes some getting used to, this happier and mellower Ryan Adams, but the outstanding songwriting and songcraft remain. “Lucky Now” is easily one of the top singles of the year.

12. City and Colour, “Little Hell.” With gems like “We Found Each Other in the Dark,” “Grand Optimist” and “Northern Wind,” singer/songwriter Dallas Green continues to excel.

11. Feist, “Metals.” Her follow-up can’t match the sterling standard set by “The Reminder,” but listening to her voice deliciously treat words like cherished lovers is always a pleasure.

10. Mother Mother, “Eureka.” This album from the quirky Canadian band features two superlative tracks — “The Stand” and “Baby Don’t Dance” — plus enough other good songs to warrant attention.

9. Augustana, Augustana. This band just seems to get better every album. And if “Wrong Side of Love” sounds like a Killers song and other tracks appear to veer into Jayhawks territory, well, I don’t consider that bad at all.

8. Dum Dum Girls, “Only In Dreams.” I’m a sucker for the retro-girl-band-rock sound, and few acts do it better. The Dum Dum Girls deliver the goods with “Bedroom Eyes,” “In My Head,” “Coming Down” and other tracks that shake, shimmer and shine.

7. Big Talk, “Big Talk.” As much as I love Brandon Flowers, this album by Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. shows talent runs deep in the band. Big Talk delivers relentlessly Killeresque catchy riffs drawing influences ranging from Big Star to the Cars, pulsing through top tracks like “Katzenjammer,” “Replica” and “Girl at Sunrise.”

6. Colin Devlin, “Democracy of One.” Whether in the Devlins or on his own, Colin Devlin offers lightly tinged Irish vocals and often deceptively dark lyrics over cinematic backdrops. “The Heart Won’t Be Denied,” “Raise the Dead” and the title track show this combination in fine form.

5. Matthew Good, “Lights of Endangered Species.” One of Canada’s best singer-songwriters never stands still, as this album injects strings and horn sections into his brooding, captivating material. He’s done better albums, but new songs like “Zero Orchestra,” “Extraordinary Fades” and “Non Populus” have become fan favorites.

4. The Damnwells, “No One Listens to the Band Anymore.” I have a bias with this album, since I supported it via their Pledge Music fund drive, but the results speak for themselves. Not a bad track here, and in a fairer world, marvelous melodies like “Feast of Hearts,” “Werewolves” and “The Monster” would easily merit plenty of airplay.

3. The Wiyos, “Twist.” How can you NOT love a rocking retro-jazz-blues-Vaudeville album nodding to “The Wizard of Oz” and opening with the lines “Last night my house came down on the witch/Now Munchkinland round here’s got one less b*tch.” The songwriting, musicality and atmosphere on this whole effort just deserve so much attention, and even admiration.

2. Florence + The Machines, “Ceremonials.” The combination of Florence Welch’s tour-de-force vocals and the imaginative arrangements on this set can be breathtaking. Captivating tracks such as “Only If For A Night,” “Shake It Out” and “Never Let Me Go,” among many others, show that Flo has leapt to the top ranks of female singer-songwriters on today’s scene.

1. Frank Turner, “England Keep My Bones.” My favorite discovery of the year (thank you, Lindi Himes) also released what I consider 2011’s best record. Could be best described as a young Billy Bragg with a better voice. The simple-wisdom set opener “Eulogy,” hometown paean “Wessex Boy” and rousing “I Still Believe” are among many standouts. The version with a half-dozen bonus tracks is worth it for the stunning “Balthazar, Impresario” alone.

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5 social media questions for 2012.

In a field like social media, expanding, extending and exploding in so many different directions and pieces, it’s hard to make rock-solid predictions as 2012 prepares to become mayor of the calendar. In lieu of trying to be Nostradamus or a Mayan prophet, let’s instead look at where we’ve been and ask 5 questions about social media for the year to come.

1. Will geosocial converge or diverge? We saw plenty of shakeups in location-based or geosocial media in 2011. Facebook Places fizzled, but Zuck and Co. subsequently bought Gowalla. Promising platform Whrrl was purchased by Groupon, who celebrated by shutting it down. Foursquare made some tweaks, but mostly I still see people just checking into their workplaces. SCVNGR’s Jeffrey Kirchick and I tend to believe that what’s next in geosocial media goes beyond merely checking in and into the realm of checking out: By which I mean geosocial-driven purchases, more reviews-based activities (like Yelp) and location-based dating apps. Yes, dating. Whether new platforms and communities will drive these innovations or existing players will lead into these more practical areas is a big question.

2. Will Google+ meet the hype? Is G+ the best thing since sliced bread or is it already stale? Depends whom you ask. My opinion is that their invitation-only beta release unnecessarily segregated users; I was in early but by the time many friends joined, my interest had waned. Similar rollouts didn’t exactly put over Google Buzz or Wave (RIP). Now my streams grow ever quieter while most people adding me are scary-looking strangers with unpronounceable last names. Despite all that, Google+ presents a user-friendly product with great connectivity and avenues for quality content. So it may yet make a big move this year and live up to the hype many have (baselessly, if we’re being honest) heaped upon it.

3. Will Facebook innovate or atrophy? Facebook may be expanding and ubiquitous, but did it really accomplish much in 2011? It gave us a ticker many folks hated, a timeline no one really asked for, the ability to flood friends’ streams with new promotional partners and an took Places to purgatory. User reactions to the developments tended to range from upset to annoyed to nonplussed. I didn’t hear anyone (outside of their flacks and claques) rave about what Facebook accomplished this year. Does this leave them vulnerable to user erosion or will they provide reasons to retain primacy?

4. Will social entertainment platforms go mainstream? People posted what they were watching via GetGlue, wannabe DJs jumped on the Turntable.fm bandwagon and Facebook friends’ musical selections bombarded us through Spotify. Nice starts by all, but none moved that far beyond technophiles and fans. The immense untapped potential of iTunes Ping remains an unknown. (Have you ever heard people actually discuss Ping? Me neither.) But users love/crave entertainment, share musical tips with friends and tweet while watching Glee, Modern Family and awards shows, so huge demand for social entertainment platforms exist in the market for a company, or competitors, to plug into.

5. What don’t we see coming? Since at least the time of H.G. Wells, society has held a fascination with fantasizing over future technology. I’m currently enjoying the fascinating and entertaining Max Headroom complete series DVD set. While the dystopian 1987 cyberpunk series shows a future where megacorporations and media companies control the government (sounds familiar), a striking gap between the rich and poor (check) and the potential for surveillance everywhere (ditto), it omits two key developments — the emergence of smartphones (everyone calls old-fashioned phones or uses video chats at terminals) and the rise of social media. And even as we gaze forward from the precipice of 2012, all the experts, gurus and ninjas of the world will miss at least one big, viral and influential development that will impact social media. What will it be? Stay tuned.

So that’s my take. What questions and trends do you think will drive social media developments in 2012?

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24 hours in photos at suny oswego: mission accomplished, lessons learned.

Watching a Zamboni clear the ice at 3:12 a.m. Visiting our student ambulance corps at 2:23 a.m. Seeing students working on papers and projects in our library at 2:47 a.m. Smelling donuts frying at 4:42 a.m. Listening in the studio as WRVO starts its local news coverage at 5:30 a.m.

These are among the many things happening while most of the campus and community are fast asleep. And also among the many highlights of our successful 24 Hours in Photos project looking to capture the many facets and faces of SUNY Oswego from 12:01 a.m. to midnight on Friday, Dec. 2  — a fairly typical day on campus.

In addition to the wee hours happenings, much of the day captures academics, the arts, athletics and more — classrooms, study areas, student organizations, a student art opening, musical performance, formal event, two basketball games, a women’s hockey contest and much much more. Moments large and small. Public and private. Silly and sublime.

Friends at other colleges have shown an interest in doing similar projects, so I’m happy to pass along lessons learned:

Use a team. While I did a lot of shooting for those 24 hours, I had a half-dozen dedicated students helping collect images as well as our office photographer. I opened the contributions to the campus community, and students, faculty and staff submitted by emailing sunyoswego@posterous.com, tweeting with a #24hoursinphotos hashtag or directly submitting to me via email or Dropbox. The combination of team and crowdsourced contributors made for a marvelous variety and a nice level of community ownership. But the team also included entities like University Police, who let me ride along to capture many images, and Auxiliary Services, which allowed me to visit the on-campus bakery and an early-opening dining hall.

Plan extensively. I created and shared a Google document with other participants containing photo ideas we all contributed. I asked students to cover particular beats, areas and events as their schedule allowed. I laid out my own schedule of overnight shots, knowing that 12:01 to 7 a.m. could be a big challenge. And I directly solicited ideas and submissions from anyone I could think of, especially events staffers and student organizations.

But expect the unexpected. Outdoor shots were muted by an unusually rainy December day; I’m no fan of snow, but it would have been more picturesque. The foul weather meant I couldn’t capture a glorious lakeside sunset (one of our trademarks). Some student photographers had complications arise, but we found ways to adjust. And some of the best photos were utter serendipity, as one may expect.

Goals first, then tools. You’ve heard this from me before? Once we had the basic concept, I sought tools that could best execute. Dipity threw its share of challenges in along the way — such as occasional visitors finding a message saying they did not have permission to view the timeline — but I value its robust experience, so we finally upgraded to the $4.95/month package because the free version only allowed 150 photos and limited access options. Posterous worked marvelously in taking moderated photo submissions with easy download. And Dropbox once again proved an outstanding way to move large amounts of big files.

It did involve plenty of work for several people, but getting a half-hour of sleep between Wednesday and Friday was a worthy sacrifice for meeting the unsung heroes protecting campus, preparing food or operating necessary equipment while I’m usually dozing in a warm bed. If you’re interested in doing a similar project, feel free to ask questions here or drop me a line. It was an unforgettable and undeniably valuable experience demonstrating what wonderful people, places and events comprise our campus community.

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