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.