Sunday, August 23, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 21 2015

Ladder leaders the Fremantle Dockers have now fallen to seventh on the rankings. While the Dockers got off to a good start in 2015, the rankings say that they have been barely better than average over their past half of a season, accumulating just three ranking points.

One of the points of doing these rankings is that ladder positions can be misleading; for example, Hawthorn was ranked highly in mid-2012 even though it sat outside the eight, and the Hawks ended the season as Grand Final favourites. On the other hand, Fremantle’s form heading into a finals series has been misleading before, just two years ago it fell to sixth in the rankings in the final round before having a great September. Personally I think that while the Dockers are a tough proposition at home I still wouldn’t mind my club playing them in the first week of the finals.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Wooden Finger Five – August 2015

5.Move On – David Bowie

I was reading an Uncut retrospective on David Bowie this week, and in the review for ‘Lodger’ the author claimed that Bowie’s song ‘Move On’ was his ‘All The Young Dudes’ backwards. Turns out that’s right.

(An aside from that Bowie retrospective, from reading through the interviews: for all of his intellectualism I am not sure that Bowie ever thought about a single thing he said. Words just seemed to pour out. I’m partly amazed he managed to ever write a rhyming verse.)

4.Gunga Din – The Libertines

The Libertines, in their video for re-union track ‘Gunga Din’ look about a decade older than when we last saw them because, well, they are – though Pete Doherty possibly looks two decades older. The lyrics read like Doherty and Carl Barat have been reading the tabloid articles about them – ‘Woke up again to my evil twin’ … ‘Got to find a vein, it’s always the same’ … ‘A little drink-y now and then to help me just to see the light’ … We get it boys, you drink and you cause havoc. Still, it’ll be good to get a third album together out of them.

3.Pretty Pimpin’ – Kurt Vile

Unlike the Libertines, Kurt Vile hasn’t woken up to his ‘evil twin’ in the mirror, but someone he doesn’t recognise. Also unlike the Libertines, Vile is able to realise that if you’ve woken up alone in a room then the guy in the mirror is probably you. Even with this realisation though, Vile feels like a stranger in his own body: ‘Who’s this stupid clown,’ he asks, ‘blocking the bathroom sink?’ Personally I wish I could blame all of my stupid things on another person who happens to be inhabiting my body – ‘Who on earth put a fork in with the knives?!’ ‘It was that other Troy … Stupid jerk.’

2.Spit It Out – The Maccabees

The Maccabees’ ‘Spit It Out’ seems like it takes well over a minute to do anything at all. I think each of the first few times my Spotify app started on that song I thought that I had inadvertently pressed pause because there seemed to be silence. Once it gets going though it’s the Maccabees at about their most energetic, with a widescreen feel. I mainly like the Maccabees when they achieve that widescreen feel, such as with ‘Ayla’ and ‘Forever I’ve Known’ off their last album. I’m not sure if the new album has enough of it. Though it grew on me a bit more last time I listened through it, so perhaps there is some other gold in there.

1.More – Wilco

I remember in David Byrne’s book ‘How Music Works’ Byrne laid out the cost structure of making an album, and at what point, depending on whether or not you can take out distribution costs and other costs that record companies impose, it becomes profitable. I’m pretty sure it was never profitable to make you album free though. Wilco have done so with their new album, ‘Star Wars’, and the economic rationale for doing so, according to frontman Jeff Tweedy: ‘it felt like it would be fun’. Actually the album was only free to download for 30 days, so Wilco still stands some chance of turning a profit on their latest release. (In this music streaming age it took me a while to think of downloading the album, whereas I would have jumped all over a free album even five years ago.)

The main sources of appeal to me in ‘More’, the second track but first ‘real’ track on Wilco’s album, are its cracking drums, Tweedy’s ‘Ha-ah-ah’ at the start of each line in the verses, and the extended ‘more’ pairs in the chorus, each first one in the pair lifting up, each second one opening out. Very classic rock, more than the alt-rock that Wilco is more associated with, though songs like ‘Monday’ in the now-distant past have shown there’s classic rock in them as well. And honestly, it does sound better because it’s free.

By the way, ‘Star Wars’ was apparently not named because Wilco love the film, though it was sort of named because of the film, if that makes sense.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 20 2015

During James Hird’s time as coach of Essendon, the Bombers’ seasons have been marked by their first halves of the season being significantly better than their second halves. Below are the changes in ranking points for Essendon during the first half and second half of every season since Hird took over as coach in 2011. In each season, the Bombers have been roughly a five goal better club in the first half of the season. Interestingly, in 2014 when Hird was banned from coaching Essendon bucked this recent trend.

2011 – first half:  +22.8; second half:  -8.5
2012 – first half:  +17.6; second half: -15.2
2013 – first half:  +15.7; second half: -17.1
2015 – first half:  -8.8; second half, to Round 20: -28.2

While in contrast to 2011 to 2013, the Bombers went backward during the first half of this season, they have gone backwards even faster in the second half of 2015, to the point where they are now challenging Brisbane and Carlton for the rankings’ worst team in the AFL.

Elsewhere, clubs in the top half of the rankings moved all over the place this week. The Bulldogs, easily the hottest team of the past three weeks, jumped from seventh to third. Adelaide rose from tenth to seventh, and Richmond moved from sixth to fifth. In the other direction, Fremantle dropped from third to fourth, and Sydney fell from fourth to eighth. All of this movement implies an interesting finals series may be coming up … at least for matches not involving Hawthorn.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 19 2015

The Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide have moved in notably opposite directions this season, as exemplified by the Bulldogs 64-point win against the Power on the weekend. At the end of 2014 these rankings considered the Power to be a seven goal per game better side than the Bulldogs, with Port being ranked third, and the Bulldogs fourteenth. As of Round 19 this season though, the rankings say that the Bulldogs have improved by five goals per game. They now sit in seventh on the rankings, though are basically equal fifth. Port, on the other hand, have dropped off by three and a half goals per game, and now sit outside the top eight clubs.

The Bulldogs have a bunch of players that have significantly improved in 2015. This bunch includes Luke Dahlhaus, Liam Picken, Marcus Bontempelli, Mitchell Wallis, Easton Wood, Koby Stevens, and Tory Dickson – compare these players’ average SuperCoach scores in 2015 to their scores in 2014. The improvement from these players has more than offset the Bulldogs’ loss of Tom Liberatore to injury, and former captain Ryan Griffen to the Giants. These players are young, so some improvement might have been expected, but perhaps the change of coach (and/or departure of some older players) has helped a bit as well.

As for Port, the cause of their decline seems to be that several players have dropped off a tad – again, compare their average SuperCoach scores in 2015 and 2014. Some of these players, including Robbie Gray, Ollie Wines, Hamish Hartlett, and Matthew Lobbe, made huge strides from 2013 to 2014. Perhaps Port’s current situation is a reminder to the Bulldogs that it is not a given that young players, even after huge leaps forward, will keep on improving.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 18 2015

Sometimes a side’s good form comes at the wrong time … from Round 13 to Round 15 Collingwood put together three good performances, but the Magpies were playing Hawthorn, and Fremantle and Port Adelaide outside of Victoria, and ended up losing all three matches by narrow amounts. Since then Collingwood has put in less impressive performances against West Coast, the Western Bulldogs, and this week lowly ranked Melbourne, and as a result have now lost six games on the trot.

The rankings suggested that the Magpies were going to come back to the pack on the ladder once they got around to playing the tougher clubs, but this week’s loss to Melbourne is a more concerning development. From being considered one of the eight best sides in these rankings last week, Collingwood is now only considered the tenth best club, which seems pretty much in line with their finals chances from here on in.

The Western Bulldogs meanwhile are now ranked as one of the top eight clubs for the first time in a few years – not just the beneficiaries of an easy draw, the Bulldogs are now considered here as a ‘legitimate’ top eight side.

During the final quarter of Friday’s night match against Hawthorn, I commented to my wife that Richmond may just well be the third best side in the AFL. Then Tyrone Vickery muffed a goal chance from a few metres out, and my wife may have snorted wine out of her nose. That aside, the Tigers’ win against the competition’s best club made me feel a lot better about their chances for the rest of the season.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Some Thoughts On Some 33 1/3 Books

I like the ‘33 1/3’ books, the series in which each volume focuses on a ‘classic’ album. You can read them in about a couple of hours, they generally have some interesting facts or observations about their chosen album, and each one is written in quite a different style.

In some cases the authors are perhaps a little too over-the-top in their praise of the album and/or band, and sometimes they draw some very long bows in their interpretations. Still, if the authors weren’t such fans of their subjects perhaps the series wouldn’t be as interesting.

There isn’t a great deal of consensus about which the best books in the series are, which may be a bad or a good thing to a reader, depending on your point of view. (A Pitchfork writer recently picked these titles.) Here are some thoughts I have on the books I’ve read to date.

Carl Wilson’s Celine Dion’s ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ is the most acclaimed book in the series, and rightly so. For the type of author that typically writes for the ’33 1/3’ series, Celine’s album would be a long way from being considered a ‘classic’ album. And yet it sold more copies than most of the so-called ‘classic’ albums that have been covered in the series. Why? I’m not sure the book ever really gets to the answer, but it’s a strong reminder that, for most people, pop and rock history doesn’t revolve around those cult albums that sold less than a million copies.

Big Star’s ‘Radio City’ (Bruce Eaton) has interviews with most of the Big Star band members and associated personnel, which makes it about as close to a definitive history of the making of that album as you can get. Band leader Alex Chilton in particular is interviewed at length. Critics and fans often bemoan that Chilton and Big Star never hit the big time, but the second half of this book reveals that there was perhaps an element of what may be considered self-sabotage contributing to Chilton’s lack of success.

Oasis’ ‘Definitely Maybe’ (Alex Niven) is a bit wrong-headed to me, though I enjoyed reading it nonetheless. The author tries to argue that Oasis’ lyrics should be seen as political, or more specifically as insights into the lives and struggles of the working class. I’m happy to accept that Oasis’ working-class lives at that point did fill out some of the detail in the lyrics, but I doubt that Noel Gallagher had many political motives when he wrote this album – more likely he was just putting words together that sounded good.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’ (Kim Cooper) has been one of the more popular books in the series. It isn’t as remarkable as the sales made me thought, but it is certainly quite readable, and its lack of remarkability is actually interesting in itself. Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands that a fair amount of mystique has gathered around over the years, but this book brings their story back down to earth by depicting them as essentially just a band, albeit one with some excellent material, like hundreds of other bands littered across the United States.

Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ (Daphne Brooks) is good, though it possibly suffers a little bit from hero-worship. I did like the fact that it was written by an African-American woman given my first inclination is to think that every book in this series is written by a forty-something white male typing next to his shelves of vinyl. This also plays into nicely into what I think is one of the better points in this book, which is that Buckley, in his cover versions, placed as much if not more emphasis on the works of female vocalists as the male guitar rock ‘canon’.

R.E.M.’s ‘Murmur’ (J. Niimi) is quite good. I didn’t realise drummer Bill Berry was such an important contributor to the early R.E.M. sound – portrayed here as at least an equal partner in the band’s decisions, if not more so. At the end of the book the author tries to transcribe what he thinks Michael Stipe’s often inscrutable lyrics may be.

Talking Heads’ ‘Fear Of Music’ is by Jonathan Lethem, who is the biggest name so far to write a book for the 33 1/3 series. That made me curious to read this, even though I didn’t know much about the album. For much of the book Lethem goes through the album track-by-track, and I listened to each track, often for the first time, as I came up to the relevant section. For me Lethem’s book did not stand out above the rest in terms of its quality or insight – Lethem is a novelist, not a music critic after all – but this still remains to me one of the most memorable books in the series. Passages like Lethem’s phonetic transcription of ‘I Zimbra’, and how the titles of ‘Life During Wartime’ and ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ stick out on the album track list remain ensconced in my mind. In this book Lethem recalls his experiences of when he first heard the ‘Fear Of Music’ album as a teenager, but mixes these in with his perspective of the album as an adult, though given that Lethem was probably a precocious kid it is sometimes difficult to tell which perspective is which.

Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ (Bryan Waterman) is the longest title in the series to date, clocking it at over 200 pages. Not as much about the album ‘Marquee Moon’ (though it does go through the album track-by-track near the end) as about the whole history of the band, and a fair chunk of the New York punk scene as well, its scope leads to its relative lengthy page count yet it almost never dragged for me. One thing I kind of learned is that, despite not being overly successful, Television were, if this book is to be believed, basically the central band in the New York punk scene of the mid-‘70s. Another thing: they were pretty guys, basically the ‘70s equivalent of those mid-‘00s pretty indie boy bands that kind of irked me, which come to think of it were probably taking both their sound and look from Television.

Finally, My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ (Mike McGonigal) had for me two interesting points about the making of this album. One, there is not as many guitars on the album as you may think (and a lot more vocals). Two, there is not as many band members on the album as you may think either.