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July 26, 2005

Sufjan Stevens -- Illinois

Here is my latest CD recommendation for everyone: I believe the official title may be just "Illinois" but the cover reads "Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Come on feel the Illinoise". Whatever you call it, this is an outstanding CD, one of the best I've heard all year.Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Come on feel the Illinoise!

I can't pretend to know much about Sufjan Stevens, including how to pronounce the guy's name. I had heard of him before, especially in association/comparison with Iron & Wine, whose CD I also bought recently and loved. Like Iron & Wine, he sings mellow folk songs, but unlike Iron & Wine, on this album at least, Stevens expands beyond acoustic guitar and banjo to widely varying instrumentation.

The songs here, as the title suggests, are thematically centered on Illinois. Even more than on his previous effort "Greetings from Michigan", Stevens researched the history and places of Illinois and took these for inspiration, leading to a far-reaching group of songs, touching on people from Abe Lincoln and Helen Keller to John Wayne Gacy, in places from Decatur and Jacksonville to Chicago.

The CD contains 22 tracks, about half of which are standard songs with vocals while the other half are musical interludes and short transitions, with names ranging from "Chicago" all the way to "To The Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament". Lyrically, there are a few songs that sound a bit like a 6th-grade book report, such as "Come on! Feel the Illinoise, part 1: The World's Columbian Exposition", with its short descriptions of the things found at the Expo, or "DECATUR, or, Round of Applause for your Stepmother!", with the outstanding rhyme "Stephen Douglas was a great debater. Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator." If all of this sounds pretentious, or quirky/annoying to They Might Be Giants levels, the amazing thing is that it is not.

Tucked in between these songs and rhymes are some really serious and sophisticated songs, such as "CASIMIR PULASKI DAY", about the death of a past lover, which happened on what is apparently an Illinois state holiday, or "JOHN WAYNE GACY, JR.", an interesting take on the life of the famed serial killer.

But it's the music that makes the CD. The songs are expansive but light and the arrangements are as varied as the subject matter of the songs. Some songs utilize a string section for backup, others a female chorus, and some just a solo trumpet. While a whole album of songs with strings, or just acoustic guitar songs may have dragged or seemed monotonous, the flow here keeps things moving and keeps the listener surprised. There would be no problem listening to this entire CD straight through. The rhythms are also very interesting -- they seem to be built on non-standard time signatures, though it may just be a musical trick (I haven't focused hard enough to figure it out).

Stevens' voice is a little thin, but fits the music fine, especially on the acoustic numbers. The lyrics are quirky, but musically, they are brilliant -- every syllable fitting like a puzzle piece -- and the songs are extremely sing-along-able.

Finally, the cover art is terrific, depicting many of the Illinois subjects in one long, folded mural.

Posted by JoshHornik at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2005

5 in a row!

Lance Armstrong won his 7th straight Tour Asashoryu won his 5th straight tournament

OK, Lance won his 7th straight, but Asashoryu has his own streak going. After Koto'oshu lost his match, Asashoryu had a tough one but won it, to get his 5th tournament championship in a row. In September, he goes for the "Asa Slam" -- 6 tournaments in a row. Only 3 other wrestlers have won 5 in a row: Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi, and Taiho -- all considered among the best Yokozunas ever. Only one, Taiho, ever won 6 in a row. In addition, Asashoryu's record for the year now stands at 57-3 after his 13-win tournament. The record for wins in one year is 82, meaning Asashoryu just has to go 26-4 in the last 2 tournaments to break the record. He now has 13 championships in his career, putting him 6th all time. And, oh yeah, he's only 24 years old.

Meanwhile, in other final sumo tournament news, the award winners were: Koto'oshu (outstanding performance), Futeno (technique), and Kokkai (fighting spirit). Futeno is a former high school Sumo champion (who beat Asashoryu on his way to winning that) and finished this tournament 10-5. Look for him to move up the rankings in the next few tournaments to become one of the top wrestlers. He is also the Kevin McHale of Sumo, easily the most articulate wrestler I've heard in interviews.

Movers for next tournament:
Kotomitsuki and Miyabiyama will be demoted after 7-8 records. Hakuho was 6-2 when he dropped out, but he'll be demoted because of the injury. And Chiyotaikai will be 'kadoban' again, meaning another losing record and he loses his Ozeki rank.
Wakanosato (11-4) and Futeno might be able to move up into the top ranks.

Next tournament starts September 11.

Posted by JoshHornik at 05:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2005

Final 2: Asashoryu vs. Koto'oshu

Koto'oshu beats Takamisakari to make the finals Today started with 5 wrestlers in contention and finished with just 2: Mongolian Yokozuna Asashoryu and Bulgarian Komusubi Koto'oshu, both 12-2.

Asashoryu defeated Kaio with amazing strength. He gives up 70 pounds to Kaio, but grabbed the belt and managed to muscle him out. Kaio is 10-4, but probably just happy to be staying at Ozeki next tournament.

Koto'oshu finally ended the miracle run of Takamisakari, holding him off then finishing him with a quick throw when he got him off balance (see picture). Takamisakari falls to 10-4. He'll set a personal best with 11 wins if he wins tomorrow. Of course, he'll probably struggle to 5 or 6 wins next tournament after getting promoted and having to face tougher competition.

The final contender, Wakanosato, lost his match to also fall to 10-4 and out of the race. He can play spoiler tomorrow, though, since he goes up against Koto'oshu.

In other news, Iwakiyama won his 8th to ensure promotion next time, which is pretty amazing, considering he missed 4 matches with an injury before returning to action 3 days ago. And Tama'asuka got a winning record in his first tournament in the majors.

It all comes down to tomorrow. Koto'oshu vs. Wakanosato and Asashoryu vs. Tochiazuma (9-5). If one wins and the other loses, the winner is the Champion, but if both lose or both win, there will be a playoff for the title, a rematch of the match that Asashoryu lost to Koto'oshu on Day 8. (Might as well give Asashoryu the cup now, because even if Oshu gets over the nerves and beats Wakanosato, there's no way Asashoryu will lose to him twice in one tournament.)

Posted by JoshHornik at 04:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2005

An actual competition to the end

For the first time in 5 tournaments, the championship is going down to the last day...

Asashoryu and Koto'oshu both won their 11th today, while Wakanosato lost to fall to 10-3.
Meanwhile, Kaio beat Tochiazuma and Takamisakari won again, so they're both at 10-3, too.
So there are 5 wrestlers within 1 of the lead and only 2 days left.

If Koto'oshu actually pulls it out, he will set the record for fastest rise to a championship ever in Sumo. It is his 17th tournament since his first as a Sumo wrestler. The current record is a tie between Asashoryu and Takanohana, who both won for the first time in their 24th professional tournaments.

Asashoryu goes up against Kaio tomorrow and Tochiazuma (9-4) Sunday.
Koto'oshu vs. Takamisakari tomorrow, so it could be a 5-way tie at 11-3 after tomorrow.

Posted by JoshHornik at 12:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

Asashoryu -- not the best ever -- loses again!

In a shocker, Kokkai beat Asashoryu today, though I think he kind of got robbed. They battled at the start, then Asashoryu put on a push. Had Kokkai backing up, but he fell as he gave the final push to get Kokkai out of the ring. Kokkai held up the foot, but fell out at the same time Asashoryu fell flat on his stomach. The referee called Asashoryu the winner, but the judges conferred and decided to give it to Kokkai instead. (Personally, I thought they should have had a do-over.)

Anyway, Asashoryu loses his 2nd and falls back into a 3-way tie for the lead, with Koto'oshu and Wakanosato. Other contenders at 8-3 include the Ozekis Chiyotaikai and Kaio, but they go up against each other tomorrow, so one will drop out of the race. Also at 8-3 are Kokkai, back in form after a disappointing tournament last time, and Takamisakari, who lost easily today and may be at the end of his miracle run. Meanwhile, another wrestler, Roho, quit the tournament with an injury. (These guys better all get healthy by October for the Vegas tournament.)

I still expect Asashoryu to win the tournament and I still think he is currently more dominant in his sport than Tiger Woods, and more dominant than Takanohana was in his day. (If he wins this tournament, he's won 9 of the last 10, and 13 out of 18 since his first.) Of course, the competition was better in Takanohana's day. As the only Yokozuna, Asashoryu is supposed to be dominant.

I think he's amazing, but definitely not the best ever. Takanohana in his prime probably beats him 6 or 7 out of 10 times. Takanohana definitely wasn't as fast as Asashoryu, but he was bigger, stronger, and I think he had a little more skill. I didn't see much of Chiyonofuji (pictured, right) before he retired but, based on videos, I think HE is probably the best ever. He had it all: strength, speed, skill. And he dominated (most career wins, including a 53-match winning streak) against tough competition.Chiyonofuji, the greatest Sumo wrestler ever

Posted by JoshHornik at 12:28 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 18, 2005

Tiger Woods. Lance Armstrong. Asashoryu.

Tiger Woods has 10 majors, including 2 out of 3 this year.
Lance Armstrong is about to win his 7th straight Tour de France.
But is Asashoryu the most dominant of them all?

I would have said yes, but then he went and lost a match on Sunday, getting flipped and losing by a head to Bulgarian Koto'oshu (see picture). Wait a minute -- Lance hasn't won a single stage and Tiger only came in second at the US Open, while Asashoryu's record is up to 52-2 for the year, and he now stands all alone at the top of the standings in the Nagoya tournament, on track for a perfect 4-for-4 in championships this year.Koto'oshu beats Asashoryu by a top-knot

Meanwhile, contenders have been dropping like flies. Kaio lost a match after a (legal) head butt opened a massive cut on his eye, but he came back with wins after that. But both Chiyotaikai and Hakuho (who was looking as good as ever at 6-1 until he injured his foot) had to drop out of the tournament. Iwakiyama was 6-0, until he got hurt and he dropped out, too.

Of the wrestlers left, Asashoryu leads at 8-1. His only loss was to Koto'oshu at 7-2. Also at 7-2 are Kaio (who got lucky and got a free win when Hakuho dropped out today) and Wakanosato, who lost to Asashoryu today. The final wrestler with 7 wins is none other than everybody's favorite Takamisakari. The crowds will be crazy if he can keep it going for a few more days. Final contender is the other Ozeki Tochiazuma at 6-3. Kotomitsuki is the biggest disappointment left. Nearing Ozeki promotion coming in, he's only 4-5 so far.
Match of the day tomorrow: Kaio vs. Wakanosato

Posted by JoshHornik at 10:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

I saw Craig Ferguson and Seann William Scott

Just wrote a long entry with ratings for both of these sightings. Then accidentally closed it before saving. (Note: If anyone is reading this with any connections at Six Apart, you might mention that clicking Preview could be considered the same as saving a draft.)

Anyway, I saw Craig Ferguson eating lunch at a restaurant on Sunset Blvd. He gets 4 points because I don't like him, but I like the fact that I finally saw a celebrity at this particular restaurant where there are lines of tables out on the sidewalk with people dining with the sole purpose of being seen by the passersby. I dutifully look for the stray famous person every time I pass by.Craig Ferguson -- lame replacement for Craig Kilborn
Stifler and Bo Duke -- now that's a career for Seann William Scott Then I saw Seann William Scott at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. He gets a 6, because I think he's actually pretty funny, and because despite my fears about the quality of his upcoming movie, I cannot deny my nostalgic love for all things Dukes of Hazzard (and Bo was my favorite). But he lost a point for having an extra 'n' in his name. And I continue to be disappointed by the lack of connection to Star Wars of any of my celebrity sightings.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

Yes, it's that time again...

The July Grand Sumo tournament opened Sunday.

Not too many big storylines this time. Asashoryu goes for his 5th straight championship (and 4th out of 4 this year). Kaio is 'kadoban' -- if he doesn't win 8, he'll be demoted from Ozeki. There are a couple new wrestlers, including Hakurozan, who is the younger brother of Russian wrestler Roho. Not the first brothers to make the top level of Sumo, but definitely the first foreign brothers (and of course, the first caucasian brothers -- love those white sumo wrestlers!)

3 days are done and the news is pretty familiar. Asashoryu is 3-0 and looks as strong as ever. He has now won 20 matches in a row, dating back to the March tournament.

Hakurozan -- balding Sumo wrestler!

Yokozuna -- Asashoryu 3-0
Ozeki -- Tochiazuma 3-0; Kaio, Chiyotaikai 2-1
Sekiwake -- Hakuho, Kotomitsuki 2-1
Komusubi -- Koto'oshu 2-1; Miyabiyama 1-2
Also 3-0: Kokkai and Iwakiyama, 2 guys who had bad tournaments and got demoted further than they belong, so they'll have good records this time, and 19-yr. old Kisenosato.

Posted by JoshHornik at 03:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 05, 2005

Something of the Somethings

Saw two very different movies this weekend, with similar titles...

March of the Penguins
Loved it. This is an amazing film. You'll be amazed by the story of how Emperor penguins mate -- marching miles and miles across the ice to the same place every year, hooking up with exactly one penguin of the opposite sex, producing exactly one egg, which the dad then incubates, while the mom marches miles and miles to get food, returning to feed the baby while the dad marches miles and miles to save himself from starvation.

You will also be amazed by the camera shots. Unbelievable close-ups of penguins, including shots of the transfer of the egg from female to male, the hatching of the egg, the baby's first swim, etc. Even more amazing are the beautiful shots of Antarctica as backdrop.

March of the Penguins

If the movie has one flaw, and I only mention it because it lets me use what is probably the longest word I will ever use, it is overanthropomorphification. (26 letters!!!) The filmmakers go overboard inferring the emotions that these penguins are feeling. The "lovemaking" scene is ludicrous and I couldn't help wondering, if these penguins are so close to humans in their deep emotional involvement, how one adult penguin could simply watch while someone else's baby was eaten by a predatory bird. (The narration didn't mention it.) Small flaw -- great movie.

War of the Worlds
Hated it. Spielberg got away with a bad story in Jurassic Park since the special effects were so mind-blowing. The effects aren't good enough here and the story is even worse. If you can even call it a story. Tom Cruise leaves work, has two kids dropped off, then is attacked by aliens and spends the next hour and a half trying to survive. It doesn't lead up to anything, doesn't build the tension toward any climax. In fact, the ending (like many small scenes) is ridiculous and arbitrary. Cruise is fine and Dakota Fanning is very good for her age, but they don't have that much to do besides act scared. There are a couple good, chilling scenes, but with no emotional depth and no setup and no explanation of anything that happens, there's nothing to make anyone care at all.

Posted by JoshHornik at 06:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack