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  • The Arcade Fire -

    The Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
    A good friend of mine convinced me to buy "Funeral," Arcade Fire's first album, last year and I'd say my reaction to that album was mixed. I recognized that the band had some unique ideas, and an interesting sound, but it just didn't really fit my musical tastes. "Neon Bible" may be less inventive, but all in all, I think it is more enjoyable to listen to than "Funeral." However, I actually went to an Arcade Fire show here in DC last weekend, and I have to admit that the songs they played from "Funeral" were much more energetic and exciting than the selections from "Neon Bible." The concert, like the recordings, come off as highly orchestrated and refined rock compositions. There is little wasted space, and the music features an interesting, although somewhat off-putting blend of instruments and vocals. The finished product takes some getting used to, but once you've acquired the Arcade Fire taste, it's hard to put these albums down. (****)

  • Bloc Party -

    Bloc Party: A Weekend in the City
    Sure enough, Bloc Party validated my predictions and avoided the dreaded "sophomore slump" with their second album. While Silent Alarm was a bit more polished, A Weekend in the City takes more chances, and offers a more diverse and creative set of songs than the band's first album. There are clear allusions to Radiohead's Kid A throughout this album, but Bloc Party does a good job of continuing to hone their own unique sound. "I Still Remember" is the sort of anthemic single that could propel Bloc Party onto the national spotlight. (****)

  • Thom Yorke -

    Thom Yorke: The Eraser
    This is basically a solo version of Kid A, although you can't really tell it's solo since there isn't really any instrumental background, only synthesized stuff like on Kid A and Amnesiac. I like this album, but i'm still really looking forward to the full band's new album which is expected in a couple of months. The Eraser is basically an addendum to Kid A/Amnesiac, and that's ok. But im excited to hear what's next. (****)

  • The Strokes -

    The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth
    This is my first Strokes CD, and the first album in a recent foray of CD buying over the last week or so. Knowing almost nothing about the band, I first listened to this CD with an open mind, and I liked what I heard. Although there aren't many especially interesting songs, the overall sound is pleasing, and even a bit catchy at times. To me, Julian Casablancas' singing basically makes this band what it is. He has an extremely deep voice, and he features his impressive singing ability much more so on this album than on the other two. I went out and bought "Is this it" as an encore, but I am so far dissapointed in the older album. Sorry, AMG, but we just can't agree this time. (***)

  • Brad Mehldau -

    Brad Mehldau: Day is Done
    Another fine addition to the Brad Mehldau collection. On this newest album, the trio welcomes Jeff Ballard on drums to replace Jorge Rossy at least temporarily, and I must say Ballard provides a refreshing new feel to a trio that was in danger of becoming somewhat repetitive and dull. As usual, Mehldau delights those of us who supplement our Jazz listening with recordings from the real world as he begins this album with a rendition on the Radiohead composition "Knives Out." This is one of Mehldau's better albums in recent years. I don't want to completely sell out Rossy, but this trio seems to have more energy and spontaneity than it had on the previous few albums. (*****)

  • Bloc Party -

    Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
    After hearing a short clip online, I decided to see these guys perform at Music Midtown. Typically with rock-type bands, I know whether I'm going to like them or not within the first 30 seconds. Clearly, since I just bought the CD, Bloc Party impressed me from the outset and maintained my interest throughout their hour-long performance. In danger of becoming just another English band in the form of Coldplay or Keane, Bloc Party has thus far succeeded with a unique sound that blends the smooth and clean style of those former two bands with the type of rock heard on some of, dare I say, Radiohead's older albums like the Bends and Pablo Honey. Just released in March, this first album has a lot of good stuff on it. Bloc Party has serious potential. (****)

  • Joe Lovano -

    Joe Lovano: I'm All For You
    As far as ballad-oriented albums go, this one is pretty damn good. Offering fresh renditions of standards as well as a few originals, Lovano's tone and expression remains unique but also traditional as he moves around these charts and improvises. This is really my first exposure to Lovano other than seeing him live once in New York. I like the album a lot and personally think he handles the ballads much better than Michael Brecker on his Ballad Book album a few years ago. (****)

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

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Recent Reads

  • Erik Larson: The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

    Erik Larson: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
    I had been meaning to read this one for awhile. With some persuasion, I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago, and I'm glad I did. This is a nonfiction book that reads so much like a novel, that I found myself repeatedly checking the back flap to make sure it was, indeed, listed as "History." Larson interweaves a personalty-driven historical account of the Chicago World Fair construction with the gruesome plot of a professional serial killer named H.H. Holmes. Well-written, informative, and a redeeming read -- few history books are this entertaining. (*****)

  • Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

    Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
    This book is long, and took me nearly all summer to read, but the time spent was well worth it. The plot of this book is somewhat convoluted and hard to really identify with, but the writing is really good, and it's probably a good idea that I took my time with the reading. Chabon has one section on the war that seems really pointless and unnecessary. The book stumbles a bit towards the end, but again the writing makes up for any deficiencies of plot or structure. (****)

  • Michael Lewis: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

    Michael Lewis: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
    I finally read this seminal baseball book. And yes, I have read other books since finishing the last baseball book reviewed here. Moneyball brought to the forefront the "sabermetric" revolution in baseball statistics. Lewis uses the example of the Oakland A's management to explain how low-budget baseball teams can stay competitive by exploiting inefficiencies in the market. This is probably the best sports book I have ever read. It's extremely well-done, and absolutely necessary reading for any serious baseball fan. I cannot believe I waited so long to finally read it. (*****)

  • John Schuerholz: Built to Win: Inside Stories and Leadership Strategies from Baseball's Winningest GM

    John Schuerholz: Built to Win: Inside Stories and Leadership Strategies from Baseball's Winningest GM
    An interesting glimpse into the inner workings of the Braves' front-office over the last fifteen years. This book is an easy read, but probably less interesting if one isn't a Braves fan. Schuerholz seems quite confident in his approach to the GM position, and rightly so. But is it a coincidence that the Braves' first dissapointing season in fifteen years came after this book was published? (***)

  • Scott Turow: One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School

    Scott Turow: One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School
    Maybe I should have read this before deciding on law school. Scott Turow recounts his first year at Harvard Law School, and the day-to-day tribulations bear a striking resemblance to my first year at GW law. One L helped me to realize that I wasn't the only one feeling so distraught during 1L. It was therapeutic to read after the first year, but could scare one off if read the summer before beginning law school. (***)

  • Steven D. Levitt: Freakonomics

    Steven D. Levitt: Freakonomics
    After trying to wait for it to come out in paperback, I finally read my dad's hardcover copy (that I bought him for Christmas). Freakonomics is short and somewhat pointless, but it is interesting (I relegated it to the beach over spring break so I wasn't expecting much). The authors introduce a couple of interesting studies that attempt to undermine basic assumptions on crime and education, to name a few topics. It's probably worth your read, but not until it comes out in paperback. (***)

  • Joseph J. Ellis: His Excellency: George Washington

    Joseph J. Ellis: His Excellency: George Washington
    This book, bearing the title of both my city and law school, is a rare example of really good biographical writing. By condensing this candid account of Washington's personality into a mere 275 pages, Ellis somehow avoids what seems an inevitable verbosity with most biographies. Ellis attempts to overcome the stale mythologies that surround most of Washington's legacy, but finds that even the most honest account of America's hero must admit a certain amount of heroic attributes. Although I learned a lot about Washington from this book, Ellis' writing itself is what really impressed me most. For aspiring non-fiction writers (or perhaps young law students), I recommend this book as a study in how to maintain high-quality writing, even when addressing the most academic topics. (****)

  • Bill Clinton: My Life

    Bill Clinton: My Life
    To be honest, I may have learned more about American Politics from this book than I did from any individual class at college. The best part of this book, though, is the first half that details Clinton's journey from a fatherless, poor home in the middle of Arkansas to the Oval Office. At times, Clinton writes brilliantly and evocatively. This book certainly drags on far longer than it needs to. But a faithful and complete reading of the book will give the reader an in-depth understanding of Bill Clinton as both a person and a politician. (****)

  • Khaled Hosseini: Kite Runner

    Khaled Hosseini: Kite Runner
    This is the only normal-sized book that I have ever finished in less than 24 hrs. All 371 pages of it. Needless to say, this novel reads extremely fast. Set in Afghanistan, this book helps to familiarize us with a region of the world that Westerners struggle to understand and develop. Chilling accounts of Russian and Taliban brutality in Afghanistan enlighten the reader about what it actually was like to live over there during the last few decades. Although the story told here is gripping and persuasive, the historical and cultural background of this book made a more lasting impression on me than the characters and plot. (***)

  • John Searles: Strange But True

    John Searles: Strange But True
    This was a perfect page-turner during my week at the beach. Searles writes a lot like David Sedaris. Sardonic and humorous, Searles' characters occupy the fence between caricature and grotesque. A well-written, well-organized novel, but still a "beach-book" nonetheless. (***)

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