Tuesday, December 31

Albums of the Year 2013

It's that time of the year again, where everyone makes a top 10 album list and pretends it's the most important list of all time. But mine really is the most important list of all time.

10. Justin Timberlake - 2020 Experience 2 of 2: JT redeemed himself after the pretentious and sleepy Part 1 with a smoother, more upbeat Part 2. The "luxury pop" ideals are mostly gone, instead replaced with songs that Timberlake appears to sing from the heart. "Not a Bad Thing" is the best song JT has made since 2006 and one of my favorite songs from this year. And his producer Timbaland toned down his ridiculous mouth sound effects and overall annoying-ness. Once again, the album does drag on with extremely long songs, but that's what the "next" button is for. Other standouts include Murder, Take Back the Night and TKO.

9. Search the City - Flight: While most pop-punk bands have been reduced to played-out impressions of 2002-era Fall Out Boy, the Detroit-based Search the City managed to make a creative record using guitars and drums (shocking, I know). Lead singer Travis Bobier's voice matches the band's soaring riffs and dramatic storytelling. Very solid album. Standout songs: Syndicated Reality, Rewrite the Ending, Heart Strings and The Runaways.

8. MS MR - Secondhand Rapture: This New York duo made a surprisingly great indie-pop record. Distant synths and thundering percussion works perfectly with Lizzy Plapinger's smooth vocals. Catchy, and I seem to get a lot of work done when it plays. Standout tracks: Hurricane, Fantasy, This Isn't Control and Think of You.

7. St. Lucia - When The Night: The 80s called and want their pop band back. Seriously, if it weren't for the slick production and fact that I can listen to this album on Spotify, I'd think I time-traveled and bought this on cassette. There is a dream-like haziness to each of the songs, but they are brought to life with a touch of funk. Thanks to Molly T. for showing me this band. Standout songs: The Night Comes Again, The Way You Remember Me, Wait For Love and Closer Than This.

6. A Day to Remember - Common Courtesy: I did not expect this one. ADTR made one of the most surprising albums of the year. Instead of going the hardcore route, as many of their fans demand, they created one of the catchiest pop-punk albums in years. Passionate lyrics and vocals from Jeremy McKinnon bring out the familiar energy from the Florida band. But this time they managed to corral it into a cohesive album with pop hits and headbangers alike. Even the screaming is tolerable. Standouts: Right Back at it Again, I Surrender, I Remember, Leave All the Lights On, Good Things.

5. Paramore - Paramore: After an ugly split saw two members depart the band, Paramore returned with a solid release. Each song is a little more stripped down than past Paramore tracks, which lets Haley Williams' voice take over. Lyrically, Paramore took all the previous drama head on and really opened up with some personal stories. The energy of the album is a welcome change from the last album and gives the impression the band is having fun again. Standouts: Now, Ain't It Fun, Grow Up, Still Into You and Day Dreaming.

4. Volcano Choir - Repave: Justin Vernon's band Bon Iver took home my album of the year in 2011, and his work in this band is no slouch either. Almost like Explosions in the Sky meets Calgary. While this version features Vernon's versatile voice over more prog-rock sounds, the "wintry Wisconsin night" vibes remain. The raw emotion is there, the lyrics have meaning and the production is clean. While I'll probably never listen to a few of the albums on this list again, this will certainly sound good in a few years. Standouts: Bygone, Alaskans, Comrade.

3. Fall Out Boy - Save Rock and Roll: FOB reunited, released a single and video out of nowhere and proved to be one of the most creative rock groups in the game. Instead of rehashing old pop-punk cliches or trying to recapture lost magic, the Patrick Stump-fronted band created something totally new. Guitars were replaced with synths and drum machines, which is a logical evolution in today's music scene. The head scratching lyrics and massive choruses are back, but assists from Foxes and even Elton John make this album surprisingly fresh. Let's just ignore Big Sean and Courtney Love's terrrrrrible verses. Stump's vocals are better than ever, and his solo work is an obvious influence. This album also got me through the absolute boredom of training for a marathon. Standouts: Alone Together, Just One Yesterday, Young Volcanoes and  Miss Missing You.

2. The 1975 - The 1975: I think this album was made in 1983, forgotten and then someone found it in a basement and reproduced it with modern technology. Perfect blend of pop rock. Very catchy, unique vocals and a solid variety of songs makes this one of the best albums of 2013. The beaming positivity mixes great with the huge percussion, which in turn makes each subtle sound effect stand out. Menswear is one of my favorite songs from this year as well, but the album includes other great tracks like The City, Chocolate and Girls.

1. Lorde - Pure Heroine: It seemed like the song Royals came out of nowhere and has refused to disappear since the summer. This album is pop music, but it isn't made for the club, twerking or the latest Beats by Dre commercial. Instead, we are left with a dark and cynical album from a teenager who throws shade at Selena Gomez. Each song has a very strong hip-hop vibe without trying too hard (looking at you Miley). Her lyrics are interesting, sometimes funny and the cadence at which she delivers them makes this a very unique album. Tennis Courts is the song of 2013, and the line "It looked alright in the pictures" is the ultimate too-cool-for-school teenage moment. Her outsider's persona probably won't last, but at least we can enjoy it for now. Standouts: Team, Ribs, A World Alone and obviously Tennis Courts. Obviously.

Here's a playlist with a fire flames song from each album, plus a bonus One Direction song, because I'm not scared:

By Aaron Brandt, professional blogger.

Sunday, September 29

Songs of the Week: Sept 29, 2013

It's been a minute since I wrote anything here, so why not break the silence with a minimal effort blog about some music. Here's fourteen songs not named Wrecking Ball that you should listen to ASAP. Spotify me.

By Aaron Brandt, embedder of playlists.

Thursday, August 15

Ferris State Logo wins best in Michigan

You have got to be kidding me.

The Detroit Free Press held a bracket-style contest to determine which school/team had the best logo in Michigan. And after a week of heated voting, the Ferris State Bulldogs came out on top. Seriously.

"Ferris' logo. Woof." -Home Alone

Look at that monstrosity of a design they call a logo. The awful colors. The terrible shading. The cross-eyed eyeballs. The non-symmetrical collar. The terrible shading (worth mentioning twice). This looks like a photocopy of a dollar store coloring book, and it was voted best in Michigan. 

Am I bitter that GVSU's logo lost to a high school team named the Chix? Yes. For an online contest, it was embarrassing for a university with an enrollment of 23,000 and almost 20,000 Facebook likes to lose to some small west Michigan high school named after a baby chicken. But I digress. GVSU isn't all that recognizable, and the GV logo is pretty plain (I wish they would have used the Louie version). But the fact that the winged wheel and olde English D both lost to this haggard canine should shake us to the very core.

The old English D is literally a symbol for the city of Detroit. The winged wheel is part of one of the most storied franchises in sports and adorns one of the best uniforms in athletic competition. The mutt even beat the Grand Rapids Griffins logo, which is pretty cool. Griffins are cool. Hastily drawn bulldogs are not.

This has to be rigged, right? You could vote multiple times, so did some computer mastermind create a program that voted once every second, giving Ferris State the victory? There is no way the historic logos of two most popular franchises in Michigan lost to a DII college in the middle of nowhere. No way. I demand a recount. 

Or maybe Ferris State is just really good at marketing. Apparently they blitzed all social media platforms, emailed alumni, got lots of news coverage and used the athletic department to really pump up the volume. If it wasn't for my Ferris State friends posting on Facebook, I never would have heard about the competition. Good for them.

In the end, this is the most important poll of our lifetime, and I will most likely never get over this. Ferris State, you win this round, but at least our football team never looses to you. The joke is actually on you Ferris, because this poll means you can never redesign the bulldog. This is your burden. Carry it.

By Aaron Brandt, longtime logger of logo logistics.

Sunday, August 4

Make up your mind, Shark Week

Welcome to Shark Week!

A docile, peaceful shark.
The Discovery Channel's famed week of shark-based television programming returns for yet another year. Sharks on sharks on sharks. But I am not as excited as most. Yes, the first day or two, I will probably check it out. However, I do not see myself watching much more, for one reason: contradiction. I don't know what to think of sharks, and Discovery Channel is 100% to blame. There are two types of shark shows on during this week, and they give the opposite message.

1. The first type of show, are of the "Sharks are actually peaceful, misunderstood creatures" variety. These shows get into the idea that sharks are actually nice creatures who mean us no harm. Us mean old humans just agitate them and confuse them into thinking we are a nice otter sandwich. Poor sharks, they are so misunderstood. And humans are so dumb. We are really dumb, for real. They're not eating errybody out here!

2. The second is the "HERE'S BLOODY RE-CREATED FOOTAGE OF THE MOST BRUTAL SHARK ATTACKS EVER" shows. Thirty minutes of carnage, stock videos of sharks and a 4 second clip of an actual attack that gets played 50 times. Check out this shark that ran up on the beach and attacked a bus! This shark swam up the Mississippi, to Chicago and attacked fans at Wrigley Field! This shark was waiting for us on the moon, and almost ate Neil Armstrong!

For every sympathetic portrayal, the next show will undoubtedly feature sharks acting really uncool to people. And by uncool, I mean eating them whole.You can't have it both ways, Discovery Channel. Either sharks are just misunderstood dolphins with feelings, and families and teeth, or they are savage monsters, bent on the destruction and domination of this country's sea to shining seas.

And personally, after a few shark shows, I've had my fill. I don't think shark programming is all that interesting. I'll watch Planet Earth all day, because there is a wide enough variety of topics, species and antelope maulings for me to digest while digesting Twizzlers. Sharks, not so much.

Have fun with Shark Week, and let me know if the shark community decides if sharks are mean or misunderstood. But I'm guessing Discovery Channel will leave you hanging. In the ocean. With  fins circling your broken surfboard. Hint hint, Open Water does not end well.

By Aaron Brandt, who thankfully never owned a shark-tooth necklace.

Sunday, July 21

My Jimmy Buffett Concert Review

I haven't hit up the ol Blogger in a while, so I think it's time I return with a hard hitting, no reservations review of a Jimmy Buffett concert.

Yes, my 23 year old self attended a James Buffet concert this past weekend. Chalk this one up as something I can say I saw when I am old. Maybe. I have never intentionally listened to a J-Buff song, so this was a learning experience for me.

There's Jimmy!
The city of Detroit was swarming with tropical themed objects such as Hawaiian shirts, beach balls, parrots, inflatable palm trees and Marlboros. I was by far the youngest, and most overdressed person in the entire stadium. Our seats were super close to Jimmy,  and all my concerns about sight lines and acoustics were gone in a warm tropical breeze. 

Buffett took the stage wearing a t-shirt and the most laid back pair of yellow shorts I have ever seen. He wasn't even wearing shoes. He made a few veiled attempts to reassure us about the city's financial crisis, and performed a litany of his hits. A giant HD screen behind him constantly displayed pleasing video loops from nice beaches and tropical islands. It is safe to say that Jimmy Buffett enjoys the tropical biome.

JimBuff brought a large band, including a guy that kept singing country songs, a couple of back up singers, a cello player, steel drums, sax and of course your standard drums, keys and guitar players. Buffett rotated between his acoustic and electric guitars, although it seemed like no sound was coming from his ax. His voice was strong and I liked when he would trade vocals with members of his "Coral Reefers" band.

I stood where Torii Hunter does his job.
Since I am new to this whole Buffett thing, all the songs blended together into one beach-themed, mega soft rock evening. It wasn't abrasive, too loud or too boring. It was what it was; Jimmy has perfected his set over the years and knows exactly how to connect with his die hard fans.

He exited the stage in one of the most planned encore performances I have ever seen. Seriously, the crowd clapped for like twenty seconds before he came back out and played Margaritaville, then a new song and finally left the stage for good. 

Overall, it was a solid show. Not my cup of musical tea at all, but I didn't have an urge to fill my ears with wax or listen to my iPod. Buffett knows what he's good at, knows his fans and knows how to put on a solid performance. And judging the reactions of the Parrot Heads around me, everyone was having the time of their lives. 

So see you next time when I review the upcoming Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake concert, otherwise knows as the "We're Rich, Self-Important and our Most Recent Albums Took No Chances" Tour. 

By Aaron Brandt, who hopes the Comerica Park outfield grass is not completely dead.

Tuesday, April 9

What's next for Michigan basketball

What an incredible season. I don't remember the Fab Five, so this was really the first historic Michigan basketball season I've witnessed. I've loved the Wolverines, from the Tractor Trailor years, to the LaVell Blanchard era, to the Daniel Horton phenomenon, to the Manny Harris show, to the Darius Morris minute, and this current team. Through thick and thin, I've loved this program, and I am thankful to see such an exciting season.

The loss was a dissatisfying ending, but the past is the past and I like to look forward. As of now, there is a lot of speculation about the fate of much of the Michigan roster, so I broke down a few scenarios for the 2013-14 season.

Best Case Scenario:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr.
SF: Glenn Robinson III
PF: Jon Horford
C: Mitch McGary
Key Bench: Nick Stauskas, Spike Albrecht, Jordan Morgan, Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert

Trey Burke is 100% gone. Deal with it. But if for some reason the rest of the crew decides to come back, look out NCAA. Burke will be missed, but incoming freshman Derrick Walton looks like a solid point guard.  All he would really need to do is pass to the plethora of weapons that fill the other four positions  The bench is also extremely deep and experienced. This team would rival Kentucky's incoming class and be a favorite to return to the NCAA final. Prediction: This team wins the Big 10 and NCAA Championship.

Worst Case Scenario:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Zak Irvin
SF: Nick Stauskas
PF: Jon Horford
C: Jordan Morgan
Key Bench: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Mark Donnal, Max Biefeldt

If the chatter is true, then a majority of the key players from the current team will be playing in the NBA. This leaves massive holes in the back court. Zak Irvin, the 2013 Indiana Mr. Basketball, would without a doubt get the start at SG. The starting line up might not be terrible, but it isn't nearly as potent with players who benefited from the attention that defenses had to give Burke, Hardaway and McGary. The bench is very weak, as the loss of players to the NBA and graduation would put a serious toll on the team. If this scenario plays out, Belien will have to go recruit some walk-ons just to fill out a roster. Prediction: Third in the weakened Big Ten, loss in round two of the NCAA tournament.

My most likely lineup:

PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Zak Irvin
PF: Jon Horford
C: Jordan Morgan
Key Bench: Nick Stauskas, Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert, Mark Donnal, Max Biefeldt

GRIII can play in the NBA, but he stands to gain the most from a return to school. If he returned to this team, he would be the offensive focus, giving him the opportunities he never got as the third/fourth option this year. And of course there are bound to be surprises. No one predicted Stauskas' season and Trey Burke was a three star recruit, proving that unlikely players will step up into bigger roles. This isn't a bad team, but it is very dependent on a freshman backcourt, and we all know what happens when a Belien-coached backcourt struggles...

I really hope the team returns and Michigan keeps moving forward, but I cannot blame any of them for turning down millions and a dream job. Either way, it will be an interesting season. Go Blue.

By Aaron Brandt, Graham Brown fan.

Thursday, April 4

Why brands should use Google Plus

I really like Google Plus. Yes, I'm well aware that it's the butt of a lot of jokes, but Google Plus actually contains a vibrant community of people, brands and content that can be just as interesting as Twitter, and certainly more interesting (and better looking) than Facebook.

Brands have begun to use Google Plus a lot more in the past year. Not only is it good to branch out on several social networks, the SEO benefits of having a Google Plus brand page are also sometimes literally worth more than money can buy. Google Authorship offers companies opportunities to expand their SEO reach even further. The communities section is growing at a rapid pace and offers brands an incredible opportunity to foster discussion and interaction. And Hangouts are a feature found nowhere else on social media. Many companies like CadbrryFordVirgin MobileForbes and Mashable utilize the service to their advantage with distinct plans and execution. And it appears to pay off for them.

However, many brands think one of two ways when it comes to Google Plus. One, that simply having a page is good enough. Maybe they jumped on the bandwagon early and forgot about the service months later. Or maybe they didn't see the growth they wanted and simply gave up.  Either way, brands whose profiles are ghost towns are a great way to make a bad impression on the Internet. It is embarrassing to see a large company's page have one status from September 2011 that says "Trying out this Google Plus thing!" It's not like the world's biggest search engine is directly attached to the service or anything...

Secondly, many brands simply think copying and pasting links of content with no plan, hashtags, mentions or strategy is good enough. There is a difference between an active brand and a smart active brand, and Google Plus' users can discern that difference from a mile away. Brands need to have a clear plan for why and how they post content.

Some signs of this lack of effort include content with hyperlinks still in the post, content without images, content with a single image (like a company logo repeated on every single post) or taking content from other social media platforms and copying it word for word to Google Plus. Each platform operates differently, and requires a different style of content in order to be effective. Posting the same exact content over multiple channels is not only ineffective; it's lazy.

There's a litany of reasons brands should be on Google Plus. But if a brand does decide to start a page, they need to fully commit. Brands cannot half-heartedly maintain a page and expect to see results. The consequences of having a dead Google Plus page can far outweigh the benefits of having a page in the first place. But if used effectively, Google Plus can be a powerful social media and SEO tool, fostering valuable discussions while showing up on that illustrious first page of search results.

By Aaron Brandt, Google+ user. Create a circle titled "Cool People" and add him to it.

Tuesday, March 26

USA vs. Mexico Live Blog

I normally rip soccer to shreds. But thanks to my undying patriotism and taunts of a co-worker, I have deiced to watch the World Cup qualifier. Here are my observations in the form of a stream of consciousnesses. Hit refresh often to see my updates as they flow from my fingers.

35 minutes to kickoff: I turn on the pregame show. The Mexican fans are already chanting and doing the wave. The stadium is rocking. I love it. ESPN cuts to a LeBron commercial.  LeBron would dominate soccer. Too bad all the good athletes in America play real sports like basketball and football...

32 Minutes to kickoff: Jeremy Schaap narrates a piece on Joe Corona. Coolest name ever. Dude is from Mexico, has American and Mexican citizenship and plays for USA. He's my new favorite player.

24 minutes to kickoff: Soccer players have the coolest gear. I need to buy some pullovers or something.

18 minutes to kickoff: The tall, bald goalie for USA is not playing? We're done. Wait, his backup is a tall bald guy? We're back. USA all the way.

17 Mins to Kickoff: Mexican goalie is supposedly playing because he is trying to get enough hours to get an English work permit.

10 Mins to Kickoff: Alexi Lalas called this the biggest rivalry in sports. Ok bro. You're losing me.

6 Mins to Kickoff: Mexico has some sick black jerseys. USA looks like they got a good deal on stock uniforms at the Nike outlet. Mexican fans also boo the entire National Anthem while taking video with their iPhones. Nice.

Kickoff: The players look so small on my TV.

3:26: Number 14  from Mexico is pulling a Holmstrom in front of the net. I respect that. USA defenders do not.

7:36: Yellow card for Beasley! Looks like we have the first flop?

11:35: Shot of the American coach sitting on the bench. Does he do anything? Run a triangle offense? Full field press? No way of knowing.

13:24: Landon Donovan is on a sabbatical? That's like if Michael Jordan took time off from basketball at the peak of his career...wait, nevermind.

17:04 Chicharito gets one hand put on him and he hits the deck like he's been shot. Come on. Good no call there. I think. I have no idea.

Sidenote: GVSU women's soccer should play in Lubbers Stadium as part of a big event. They've earned that.

26:15: Dos Santos is the Anderson Varajao of flops in soccer. They both have similar ugly hair. Science.

28:20: Chicharito misses a goal. I bet Russell Westbrook makes that play.

32:50 USA got the ball into Mexico's zone, but then intentionally kicked it all the way back to the goalie? Why?

37:30 Whenever ESPN shows a close up shot of the action, you realize how poorly wide camera angles make soccer look on TV.

38:50 Looks like a man is down. Time for the magic can of spray and towel! (Karsh and Anderson bit)

40:32 Dos Santos is not impressing me with kicking.

41:31 USA guy heads a ball kicked from the corner into the stands. And NFL running backs can't lead with their heads?

43:24 Mexican guy gets a tiny shove, looks at the ref, then wins an Oscar with that performance.

45:12 Looks like that USA player's head got hurt, most likely due to his bad haircut.

Halftime: It would appear that USA is playing well. I have no idea. At least we aren't losing? How long is halftime?

Halftime: AT&T commercial. Girl says, "We want more, we want more." Well I want more goals. I've seen a total of none goals.

Halftime: Here's some complicated analytics.

46:30 The game resumes.

50:34 At this point in the game, I feel like USA should score a goal. Probably easier said than done.

53:00 Beasley has a pretty difficult task. Basically playing with five fouls. I give him a lot of credit. Btw, this is my first attempt at soccer analysis, so bear with me.

55:00 Altidore taken out of the game. He's one of the few names I recognize. Although his replacement plays for the Seattle Sounders, and I follow them on Twitter. So that's a good substitution, in my opinion.

57:59 Mexico "running out of ideas" according to the announcer. Here's a good idea; score a goal!

62:13 I like how green the grass is on soccer fields.

66:50 Are fans shining lasers on the US players, or did I not pay enough for my TV?

69:45 Mexico is getting too many chances. One of these will go in, it's just a matter of time.

71:48 Grahm Zusi came out of nowhere. And his hair is cool.

74:49 Looks like a great game between the Mavericks and Clippers is developing on TNT. Must...not...change..the...channel...

75:30 Words are being exchanged! Controversy! Shoving! Anger! Glad I didn't change the channel. Maybe.

82:00 Guy with cool hair goes off for a guy with uncool hair. We are in trouble.

85:12 There are absolutely lasers being shined on US players. I find this funny.

88:21 Still no goals.

90:00 Stoppage time! They need to startage scoring from goals.

92:14 Looks like a giant moon bounce inflated behind the goal. Someone needs to explain this.

94:12 Tie. It appears as if this a good thing.

Well that was...interesting. It wasn't bad, but then again, I didn't see a single goal. The announcers are very impressed with the US team, so I guess I feel pretty good about this. Thanks for reading!

By Aaron Brandt, soccer watching veteran.

Friday, March 22

Michigan-shaped chicken wing

When I say that Happy's Pizza never disappoints, I really mean Happy's Pizza never disappoints. Today I came home from work, realized I had no clean dishes, and did what any person in my situation would do; I got carry out. Of course my first option was Happy's Pizza in Eastpointe.

I ordered the wing dinner and in 15 minutes, I was driving home with a paper bag full of hot chicken wings (boneless of course), fries, bread and slaw. Upon opening the box, I made a tremendous discovery. Not only were my fries golden, my chicken crispy and my bread buttery; I found a wing shaped like the 26th state of the union. A Michigan-chicken miracle.

It was all there. The thumb. Grand Traverse Bay. The Upper Peninsula. Possibly Comerica Park.  And this was no accidental fusion of two random pieces. This was one solid wing that was formed by the oil of destiny into the Great Lakes State.

The motto of Michigan goes: "Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice" which roughly translates to "If you seek a pleasant boneless chicken wing, go to Happy's Pizza." How true that is.

Shout out to the Happy's on Gratiot in Eastpointe. They always hook me up with the best food, great service and fast delivery. And shout out to the chicken-Michigan. I don't know what to do with you, but I have too much respect to eat you. Long live chicken-Michigan! Long live Happy's Pizza!

By Aaron Brandt, winner winner, Michigan-shaped chicken dinner.

Tuesday, March 19

The 20/20 Experience: Album Review

Justin Timberlake's latest album full of highs and lows. 

After years of waiting, a few movies and one of the most self-important album teaser videos of all time, Justin Timberlake dropped his new album, titled "The 20-20 Experience" today. Check it out on Spotify.

With songs running on average of over seven minutes, this is clearly an album that needs to be digested over a long period of time. But this is the Internet, and ain't nobody got time for that. Timberlake brought back his musical compadre, Timbaland to produce the album. And boy does Timbaland let you know it. Here is my breakdown of each song on the album.

Pusher Love Girl
I wouldn't expect anything less than an orchestral intro from JT, and he delivers. Right away we are hit with the obligatory Timbaland mouth-sounds that were everywhere about six years ago. This song is plunky, electronic and meandering in a good way.  JT really shows off his vocal range in the song, climbing the scales, fast talking and falsetto-ing like there's no tomorrow. The song is so long, Spotify played an ad right after it was done. And it's only been one song!

Suit & Tie
Very surprised he chose this as the first single. Another very long track that seems to meander. I expected Justin to swing for the fences in his return to music, but he seemed fine with getting men on base with bloop singles. The song starts out extremely slow and includes more Timbaland mouth-sounds. Just get to the good stuff, Justin. S&T has a very classy feel to it, but never really gets off the ground for me, especially with the punch-less chorus.  Also Jay-Z's verse is about as lazy as he's been in years. Dude just mailed it in.

Don't Hold the Wall
This song starts out with some signature JT vocal showmanship, but then devolves into more Timbaland voice-sounds. Sassy vocals eventually give way to a quicker pace, and the seductive horns in the background work perfectly with Timberlake's snappy lyrics, giving it that smokey, exotic club vibe. JT's vocal rhythm is on point in the pre-chorus, but he backs off right away. The song is extremely smooth, but really drags towards the end. Justin eventually asks, "Where you runnin to?" Well, I'm running to the next song, because I'm bored. Don't hold the stinking wall, people!

Strawberry Bubblegum
Mellow mellow mellow mellow mellow mellow is not only a lyric, but also a great way to describe this song.  Dreamy strings play over a distant snare beat with electronic bleeps and a terrific beat. Seriously, I love those electronic bleeps. Lyrically, maybe not so much. Apparently this girl really got him when she said "hey." Profound.  I really liked the overall heaviness of the song, contrasted with the bleeps. This is something Drake has perfected. However, Timbaland has too much of a presence towards the end and the song has one too many breakdowns, sounding like the backing track to a scene from Napoleon Dynamite.

Tunnel Vision
Lots more chopped and screwed effects, plus the overused "ticky-ticky-ticky" sounds from Timbaland. JT sings with some attitude, but his voice gets lost in what seems to be layer upon layer of beats, effects, synths and mouth-sounds. And lyrically, this song is on Justin Bieber's level. Tunnel tunnel vision on you. Chilling by the fire while we eating fondue. There are some really great moments in the song, while others drag. Such are the perils of a seven minute track. In the end, Timberlake saves the song with his singing, making for a decent trip into the (tunnel) vision of JT.

Spaceship Coupe
I love the contrast of the heavy synth and the airy flute in this chill song. JT croons about all the places he could take you in his spaceship coupe.  However, I still waiting for that huge dance song, but all the songs have felt like a seat belt holding me in place. Am I stuck in Timberlake's spaceship coupe, which only plays slow songs lasting longer than eight minutes? I don't want to be wrapped up in a space-lover cocoon. Cringe-worthy lyrics.

That Girl
I wanted life, I got some life! That Girl sounds like a modernized Motown classic, complete with big horns, boisterous vocals and a slick beat. A flashy guitar riff gives it an extra level of funky Motown vibe. Of course Timbaland added some mouth-sounds, which were the only downside of a tremendous song. The melody is sweet, and the electronic ping returns! Long live the ping! The tempo change at the end of the song actually works this time, as opposed to a drawn out breakdown in many of the other songs. Great song.

Let the Groove Get In.
Very fitting song title, as you can really feel the groove right from the start. This is the upbeat JT I have been waiting for the past 45 minutes. The song keeps building and building with layers of drums, horns, voices and other strange effects. The presumably older woman singing adds some flavor, while the slick piano work in the bridge gives this song that signature Timberlake classiness. Towards the end, the horns and lyrics tread that fine line between acceptable and "Shakira-ish" and they may have even crossed into that frightening territory. The smooth ending reels it all in, and makes for a terrific song.

This is the best song on the album by far. Maybe because it sounds almost nothing like the other songs, or it is one of the only songs where Justin seems fully engaged. Timberlake sings about his dream girl, and delivers the best vocals on the entire album. Maybe not the best lyrics of all time and some Miguel-like Adorn sound effects layered under strings at the end lead to some awkward talking... "You. are. you. are. the. love. of my life." Could have done without that, especially since it is repeated a million times (I counted). Despite the rough finish, this is a great song, and the best on the album.

Blue Ocean Floor
This song employs a reverse sound effect played over a beat created by what sounds like projector slides. Very fitting for a song that deals with the past. (Get it, like looking at slides of the past!) Much more creative than Timbaland's mouth-sounds.The watery song builds, then peaks and maintains the pace for a good while. This is an example of a song that went on for far too long. However, it really captured the "floating on the blue ocean floor" essence. The album concludes by fading into the sounds of lapping water.

Overall Album Score:  8/10

In the end, this wasn't exactly what I expected from Justin Timberlake. I wanted some straight dance jams and catchy hooks, but I got a lot of crooning over some atmospheric noise. The length was also an issue. When an eight minute song is done well, you don't notice, but when poorly executed, each song feels like three songs forced together in a jam session. Kind of like that run-on sentence you just read. I also think Timbaland needs to chill out with the Timbaland stuff. Let Justin sing and get out of the way. Lyrically, this is also pretty bad, but Timberlake's voice can make the most basic rhymes seem poetic.

Obviously JT's voice carried this album, which sealed the deal for me. There is no denying his ability to create unconventional vocal melodies. He clearly has no regard for traditional song structure or length, which is something you can do if you are Justin Timberlake. I can't say this lived up to years of expectations, but it did offer a solid album with lots of potential for multiple listens. Or at least until that Fall Out Boy album drops.

By Aaron Brandt, who is on Twitter. https://twitter.com/AaronBrandt

Tuesday, March 12

Drake Harris decommits from MSU

Former MSU basketball and football commit Drake Harris announced that he was officially decommitted from Michigan State yesterday. Of course, the MLive article covering the topic was ripe with classic comments. Here are some of my favorite reactions from the bowels of the Internet known as the MLive comments section, followed by my snide remarks.

Fear the Spartans' former recruits.

"Bet he ends up transferring anyways, regardless of where he actually plays his freshman year. GVSU by 2016?"
G-V-S-U, is he a Laker? Maybe? 

"If I commit to something I do not offer a decommitment later on down the road. It says a lot about someone's character when they can't stand by an original decision. Good riddance."
Harris just finished his sophomore year when he committed to MSU basketball. His body changed, he realized he was a much better wide receiver and he didn't want to play basketball anymore. He'd be crazy not to consider an elite football program.

"Two words: Sevon Pittman - Spartans don't miss him and won't miss Mr. Harris."
I can see this comment pinned on Harris' Ohio State or Florida locker in the near future...

"Western Michigan University would probable be the best fit!"
Probable not.

"If he's going to play football, why wouldn't Wide Receiver U. be the right place for him? Hasn't MSU sent more great receivers to the pros than anywhere else?"
Right. That historic trio of Andre Rison, Charles Rogers and Plaxico Burres has earned Michigan State University the moniker of "Wide Reciever U." And don't forget Kirk Gibson!

"Who is Drake Harris? Lot of fish in the recruiting pond who are more grounded..."
Just your run-of-the mill 4-star recruit. Those are like a dime a dozen at Wide Receiver U! Right? Right? 

"Kid will learn about Karma. He has gotten greedy and his ego is out of control. It will come back and he hopefully will learn some good life lessons before it hurts too much."
Ahh karma. That tangible attribute that you must recognize when reconsidering choices you made as a fifteen-year-old. I could have gone to Harvard, but that would have just been greedy.

"Once all the hype about what school he picks dies down, can we discuss the fact that this boy has his ears pierced like a girl?"
Sick burn. Attack his physical appearance. Plaxico can't year you tho.

Learn to spell the coach's name correctly and your thoughts will actually gain some credibility. MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio (no apostrophe).
The spelling police have deemed the previous comment to be not credible due to a spelling error. Arrest that man! His credibility is null! 

Yeah real hurt LOL..one position MSU has lots of, just need more experience. Drake wants a NC so he will be leaving the state...
Wide Receiver U all day, every day! GO GREEN GO WHITE!

Spartan fans, don't act like you don't want a top recruit. 
Too late. They don't want him, he's terrible and his piercings are stupid. Case closed, Dantonio is 4-2 against Michigan and Rick's is better than Rick's. Wait, what?

By Aaron Brandt, former .02 star cross-country recruit. I see you, Concordia. I see you. But I never actually saw you.

Monday, March 11

DeAndre Jordan's dunk on Brandon Knight

As hard as it may be sometimes, I try and watch most Pistons games. Tonight's contest with the LA Clippers was a typical ugly game from Lawrence Frank's squad. And then DeAndre Jordan happened. Oh my.


Here's a breakdown.

3 Pistons, including center Greg Monroe, are clustered at the top of the floor. DeAndre Jordan streaks to the basket.

Brandon Knight thought it would be a good idea to try and stop Jordan. Bad idea.

So bad.

Knight is writhing on the ground; Jordan doesn't know what to do with himself and wanders into the crowd.

Chris Paul is super confused as to what just transpired.

Children are shielding their eyes and crying.

DeAndre Jordan shows the only sensible emotion at this juncture.

Even Blake Griffin is beside himself and has resorted to screaming.

Caron Butler wants to look away from the car crash, but... just... can't...

Poor Brandon Knight. I admire the hustle and attempt to defend the bucket, but come on man, protect your self. This makes the Clowney hit look like any foul called on Zeller. Poor Knight. The popularity of .gifs has done him no favors this year. 


Just another night for the Pistons. 

By Aaron Brandt, Pistons fan in 2013 enjoying the typical 2013 Pistons. 

Thursday, March 7

We will hate the new Facebook

Today, Facebook announced a major redesign. Despite overwhelming similarities in form and function to Google Plus, most people with their noses to the social media winds welcomed the changes. Customized timelines, cleaner pages, mobile and desktop uniformity, more attention to media such as photos, video and links are just a few of the reasons the new Facebook is an improvement.

But the changes have yet to hit the general, Farmville-ing public. And once they do, I expect a firestorm of hatred for the redesign. Every single time Facebook has come out with a change, we have rallied against it with vigor. Or at least enough vigor to post a status or two about it. #Irony.

New layout.
And with each change and reaction, we inevitably became familiarized with the changes, learned how to use them and eventually mastered them. Remember all those Facebook groups that acted as "petitions" to Mark Zuckerberg, demanding he get rid of the timeline, or the chat bar, or the pages layout? I bet he just sat there in his Adidas flip flops and smiled. He knew we were all addicted to his service, and we would soon adopt the changes as our own.

Companies need to constantly improve. Or at least give the appearance of improvement. Early social media powerhouse, Myspace, stood stagnant and became a dinosaur. There is increasing pressure from shareholders to improve the bottom line, and more data suggests that people are using Facebook less than they were in the recent past. Facebook needed to make a major change in the face of actual decline.

We fought to keep this version of Facebook...
So before you complain about the new Facebook and how it's horrible and how you can't post bumper stickers to your friend's profile (the Facebook Wall didn't even exist during the bumper sticker era), take a few days to get used to the changes. They are better, and Facebook promised to make some tweaks as they slowly roll out the new service. Or you can complain about it in a status. Either way, Zuckerberg is winning. (You could also sign up for Google Plus, which, contrary to reputation, is a very popular and useful site). If you hate it after a few weeks, then fair enough.There's always Friendster.

By Aaron Brandt, Googler of all the things.

Wednesday, February 27

List of reasons to cancel school

Last night, we were hit with a nasty snow squall. I drove down I-94 right in the middle of its icy wrath. I will admit, it was bad. But it eventually stopped, the temperature went up and the plows had time to clear the roads. My commute this morning was smooth, with the exception of some puddles.

Shut. Everything. Down.
However, a large amount of schools including Oakland University decided to close their doors because of the snow. Get real. Most of the snow is melted by now anyway, and the roads are clear. Was this the result of an OU student's sob story on their Facebook wall or just a terrible terrible forecast? Maybe someone stole the code to call into all the TV stations?

Who knows. But now that we live in a world where 3 inches of melting snow can cancel school, I have created a list of other "disasters" that might cause schools to close in the future. Principals, please hold a seminar for your staffs regarding this information. You are not allowed to put this into Powerpoint form. Please, stop using Powerpoint.

Reasonably Reasonable Reasons to Close School
  1. Any amount of snow greater than 2.7 inches.
  2. Every time a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan.
  3. Wind speeds exceeding 6 MPH
  4. More than three lightning strikes in an hour within the continental United States.
  5. When the printer gets jammed. Any printer. Anywhere.
  6. If the number of squirrels on campus exceeds seven.
  7. If gas goes over $4.00 per gallon
  8. Today is Polar Bear Day (Just FYI)
  9. The Dow Jones Index falls a certain amount of points
  10. JWoww's birthday (Today! She's 27! That's like 73 in tanning bed years!)
  11. If the new Star Trek isn't very good.
  12. If there are too many birds on one wire.
  13. If the clouds don't look cautiously optimistic.
  14. Justin Verlander pitches less than six innings.
  15. If your phone has below 50% battery remaining.
  16. If Farmer Jim's hen lays less than two eggs.
To those complaining about school not being cancelled, cry me a river. Did George Washington just cancel the Revolutionary War when the weather got bad? No. Did Balto quit carrying the serum from Anchorage to Nome when everyone was sick? No. Did Santa quit on Christmas Eve when it was thicker than pea soup out there? Not a chance. Three inches of snow? Deal with it.

By Aaron Brandt, first time .gif blogger.

Tuesday, February 12

The Warby Parker Hayworth Collection

In a world of swag, bling and yet another Die Hard movie, it is important to remember something that seems to have fallen from our cultural lexicon: class. What is class? Class cannot be quantified. Class cannot be measured. Class cannot be forced into a contrived formula and sold at fast food restaurants. Class is a lifestyle.

However,  due to your own budgetary restraints, class may seem unattainable. Not everyone has the cash-flow of Justin Timberlake or Jay-Z, yet we'd rather not purchase a "swap meet hat" like The Dream. Thankfully, a company such as Warby Parker exists.

The Neville (Sugar Maple)
You don't need a minority share in the Brooklyn Nets to don a pair of Warby Parker's high class, high quality frames. At Warby Parker, affordability does not compromise style or quality. Whether you need to shade your eyes from the unforgiving sun, or simply correct your vision, the Hayworth Collection from Warby Parker is here to provide you with luxurious style at an affordable price.

The collection consists of six brand new frames; three optical and three sunglasses. The retrospective design can be traced to Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s; a time of post-war sophistication and intrigue that is unparalleled in our rich American history. But these frames are no fragile relics of a bygone era.
The Neville (Sugar Maple)

Built with the strength of premium Japanese titanium and rendered in a signature custom acetate, these frames are built to last. The noir and Art Deco stylings offer something entirely unique, yet historically familiar. Personally, I am drawn to the Neville. The bold frame is accentuated with small but distinct titanium flourishes and a color scheme which is easy on they eyes in more ways than one. Furthermore, the Sugar Maple's subdued, yet bold tones make it the winner in my book. Whether you are spending a day at the beach or reading the latest from the morning paper, the Neville is a surefire way to stand out in a world deprived of sophistication.

But don't take my word for it, see for yourself at the Warby Parker website. Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 11

My broadcasting debut: LHN Basketball

Lights out, guellia radio. Turn that computer/mobile device up.  

On Monday, February 11 at 7:30 PM, I will be broadcasting the Lutheran North varsity girls’ basketball game vs. Algonac live from 24 Mile and Romeo Plank. Thanks to the recently formed broadcasting club, the mics will be hot and the insight won’t stop.

Follow LHN Radio on Twitter at @Lhnradio

To find the broadcast, head to http://www.meridix.com/mbp/basketball/index.php?liveid=Lutherannorth&recordid=36792&event_position=&event_type=basketball and click play. It will be active sometime before 7:30 PM. 

Send me a Tweet at @AaronBrandt and I might work it into the broadcast.  You can also send me your basketball memories, strategies and shout-outs. I will not be taking any requests for "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz.


By Aaron Brandt, the Gregory Kelser of Macomb.

Thursday, January 17

Don't use Rate My Professors

Easiness, helpfulness, clarity, reader interest and red peppers. Those have become the five modern pillars of grading the effectiveness of an educator.

Throughout my college career, I used Rate My Professors often. When faced with numerous options, classes and profs, I turned to that website for guidance when choosing my classes. If you don't know, Rate My Professors is a site that allows anyone to search a professor, give them a rating, write comments and see what others have said in the past. The site calculates the averages and gives you an overall rating, which also could include the vaunted red pepper, signifying the professor's good looks. 

This is a horrible system. I realized this too late into my career and made several mistakes using it. Here's why.

A majority of people who use the website are disgruntled students looking to extract some form of revenge on a prof for numerous reasons. Its their way of sticking it to the prof without actual confrontation. One of my favorite responses of all time was "If I had one hour to live, I'd spend it in his class because it feels like an eternity." A person who had a good experience is far less likely to go on the site and sing the praises of someone who they loved.

And who are these people leaving comments? Do you know them? Do you know their study habits? Do you  know their attendance? IQ level? Some people are lazy, and might deservedly get terrible grades, but you would never know that from a review that called the professor "the dark prince" would you? There is no way to get the details of the person posting anonymous ratings.

Clarity: 1.1
Truth is, we all respond to different teaching styles in different ways. What works for one student might be a disaster for another. Statistics is hard for me, and no professor could fix that. However, some people would still choose to blame the professor for their own poor study habits, unwillingness to meet with profs and simple lack of mathematical wizardry. 

Also, professors are constantly improving. That't why we fill out official surveys at the end of each semester. A semester-old review might be out of date, as a professor my have learned from their mistakes, changed their teaching style or implemented new techniques.

And the pepper is a joke. I'd take a gremlin-esqe teacher who helps me learn over a swimsuit model with no ability to teach, any day of the week. The pepper seals the deal for Rate My Professors when it comes to academic credibility. No website that takes reviews seriously would include a metric to rate the hotness of teachers. My education isn't a beauty contest. (It's actually the opposite, if you look at the vapid people who participate in said contests.)

My advice is to talk to people you trust when it comes to selecting a professor. People who have similar study habits, goals and expectations for themselves are going to give you a far better idea of who to take, instead of a random person from five years ago who wrote an ALL CAPS REVIEW OF HOW THE WHACK PROFESSOR DIDN'T LIKE SNICKERS BARS, YO. Don't depend on emoticons for your educational choices. And don't trust anonymous people online, especially when it comes to your education or your girlfriend. I can't even imagine what Te'o believed about his world history professor. 

By Aaron Brandt,