Favorite Song Right Now: “Leaving” by Pet Shop Boys

I’m started to get excited to see Pet Shop Boys on April 8 at the Fox Theater in Oakland. This was the same venue where they played last year, though in this case this is the kickoff show for their 2014 tour (which means I won’t be able to hear about the songs in the play list). Last year we saw a bunch of folks dressed up for the show, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing many festive outfits at the show in April. The Electric Tour in 2013 was great and while I don’t expect many changes I’m sure some of the songs will be swapped out.

In reviewing the track list from last year’s tour, one of the songs from the group’s 2012 album Elysium seemed to stand out. “Leaving” was the second single from the album, and I may have to revisit my previously negative comments about the album (the first from the group that I didn’t buy). This is a mid-tempo number but does seem to stick in your head after a couple listens. The video for the song is well done and with the black and white cinematography seems to set the tone perfectly.

Fearless Oscar Predictions 2014

Are are my picks for 2014. Most years, I get around 18/24 picks correct, though last year I got 20/24. Am pretty confident in most of these except for Best Picture (where I almost picked 12 Years a Slave) and Best Supporting Actress (where if support for 12 Years is a soft I’d see Jennifer Lawrence winning). By picking Gravity for Best Picture and Nyong’o for Supporting Actress I’m sort of splitting the difference; gotta get at least one of these correct.

Update: 18/24 this year (winners in bold)

Best Picture: Gravity

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)

Best Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Best Original Screenplay: David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)

Best Foreign Film: Italy, The Great Beauty

Best Documentary Feature: 20 Feet from Stardom

Best Animated Feature: Frozen

Film Editing: Captain Phillips

Best Song: “Let It Go” (Frozen)

Best Original Score: Steven Price (Gravity)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)

Costume Design: American Hustle

Makeup and Hairstyling: Dallas Buyers Club

Production Design: The Great Gatsby

Sound Editing: Gravity

Sound Mixing: Gravity

Visual Effects: Gravity

Short Film, Live Action: The Voorman Problem

Short Film, Animated: Get a Horse!

Documentary Short Subject: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life

Maya Explores Union City

I took Maya over to the park behind the BART station in Union City, then to the Dog Park. A fun time on a warm January day.

Most Played Songs of 2013

Here is the list of my 30 most played songs of 2013, according to iTunes play data. You can see that “Axis” was my most played song, including a total of 91 plays across all versions and remixes.  The placement of Pet Shop Boys, Men without Hats, Franz Ferdinand, and Ixtahuele shouldn’t be a surprise since I blogged about all of them.

I listened to a total of 1836 songs at least once. That’s the largest total since I started tracking this statistic, and is quite a bit higher than past years 2009 (1431), 2010 (1539), 2011 (1337), and 2012 (1479).

Song Name Artist Plays
Axis (Video Version) Pet Shop Boys 45
Vocal Pet Shop Boys 40
Antarctica Men Without Hats 39
Inside a Dream Pet Shop Boys 38
Axis Pet Shop Boys 33
Thursday (featuring Example) Pet Shop Boys 29
Heaven Depeche Mode 28
Right Action Franz Ferdinand 26
The Last to Die Pet Shop Boys 26
Flourescent Pet Shop Boys 24
Love Illumination Franz Ferdinand 23
Never Let Me Go (Aeroplane Remix) The Human League 23
Bolshy Pet Shop Boys 23
Lights (Single Version) Ellie Goulding 21
I Like Men Without Hats 20
The Great Ones Remember Men Without Hats 19
I Got the Message Men Without Hats 19
Leaving Pet Shop Boys 16
Secret To The End Depeche Mode 15
Stone Gods of Bimini Ixtahuele 15
The Safety Dance (Video Version) Men Without Hats 15
Welcome To My World Depeche Mode 14
Angel Depeche Mode 14
Stand On the Horizon Franz Ferdinand 14
Memory of the Future Pet Shop Boys 14
Evil Eye (Todd Terje Extended Mix) Franz Ferdinand 13
Fresh Strawberries Franz Ferdinand 13
Black Sand Ixtahuele 13
Living In China Men Without Hats 13
Ban the Game (Full Version) Men Without Hats 13

This is obviously very skewed to the Synthesizer music that came via the new albums from Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, and my concert attendance where Men without Hats played.  I resolve to listen to more rock music in 2014, but some of that’s dependent on what new music gets released.

The Best Thing on the Internet This Week

As has been previously chronicled, I’m a big fan of attraction posters from Disney theme parks. So, it was with wonder that I saw this week’s blog post from the Disney Parks Blog detailing some tidbits from the upcoming holiday overlay for the Jungle Cruise. There was a preview of some of the decorations for “The Jingle Cruise” but the attraction poster that was released truly got me excited to experience the attraction with the new elements.


You can compare this poster with the original from back in the 1950’s (the original Jungle Cruise attraction poster was #3 on my list of all-time attraction posters). I love how this new poster riffs on elements from the original, like the kid with a candy cane instead of a 1950’s cap pistol.

The Jingle Cruise is coming to both the Magic Kingdom in Florida as well as Disneyland in California. We’re heading down just before Thanksgiving and this is already the top of my “must do” list.


Top 10 Pet Shop Boys Albums

To celebrate this week’s release of the Pet Shop Boys outstanding new single, “Thursday”, I thought it would be interesting to rank the English duo’s best albums. Given the group’s pop sensibilities, they are typically considered a “singles band” and given their vast numbers of pop hits it’s not hard to fault this line of thinking. That thinking is especially timely given that three of their four singles this year are among their best ever (the previously mentioned “Thursday”, video shown below, and the previously blogged about “Axis” and “Vocal.”).

But to truly appreciate the Pet Shop Boys you really need to dig into their albums for songs that often deal with more complex topics than is typical in a single release. Musically, there’s often an opportunity to “stretch” as well. And in my mind the best albums follow some sort of theme or at the very least pull together a great collection of songs.

For my criteria I eliminated collections of previously released songs. This meant that 1995’s amazing B-sides collection, Alternative, wasn’t able to make the cut. But, as an “album” you typically are looking at what the record says about “right now” musically or at least what’s going on with the group and so compilations don’t really make it.

10. Nightlife - 1999. A pretty uneven record, though there are some highlights that are amongst the group’s seminal efforts. Two non-single tracks in particular, “Radiophonic” and “In Denial” (duet with Kylie Minogue), are among my favorites. The club-oriented “For Your Own Good” opens the album that leaned in an urban/disco direction.

9. Very - 1993. More dance oriented than the group’s 1990 mellow downer, Behaviour. The record embraces current dance trends and avoids being a rehash of their late 1980’s sound. Check out the rich arrangements of “The Theatre” and “Young Offender.”

8. Yes - 2009. After two very uneven efforts, the Pet Shop Boys returned with a contemporary album featuring one of their best singles in years, “Love, etc.”

7. Relentless - 1993. An EP of sorts that was paired with Very as a special edition release. The tracks here are very club oriented and electronic to the extreme. Some songs feature very little vocal content. The song “We Came From Outer Space” definitely is well named, though my favorite track is “KDX 125″ (named after a motorcyle, not a synthesizer).

6. Introspective - 1988. An interesting album that featured “long versions” of songs that were eventually released in shorter versions as singles. Features the group’s last big US hit, “Domino Dancing” as well as their good time anthem “It’s Alright.”

5. Bilingual - 1996. There a pronounced Latin influence on this album, with outstanding tracks such as “Discoteca” and “Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is).” A great example of the more complex material you’ll find in a non-single track is provided by “Metamorphosis” which describes Neil Tennant realizing “he was that kind of guy” and includes an always-welcome vocal appearance by keyboardist Chris Lowe. The lyrics and musical themes are extremely tight on this album.

4. Disco - 1986. Smart readers might consider this album to break my “no compilation” criteria, though the album pre-dated the single releases for a re-recorded version of “Suburbia” as well as Chris Lowe’s signature vocal appearance with “Paninaro.” So, in a way, the singles did function in a way to promote the upcoming album release. In any case, Disco was the prime example of how the Pet Shop Boys embraced dance sensibilities rather than “careerist sensibilities” as well as highlighting their single remixes to a more mainstream audience.

3. Actually - 1987. This album probably has the strongest selection of singles from any album, including “It’s a Sin” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” There’s some great material here, including the UK singles “Rent” and “Heart”, plus a great re-recording of their original B-side “One More Chance.” It’s a great album but some of the album tracks including “Shopping” and “Hit Music” weigh down the rating just a tad.

2. Electric - 2013. The group’s most thematically solid album ever. And for someone who prefers the “dancy” records to the “theatrical” ones this is maybe the group’s best ever representation of that kind of material. As noted, this album has some of the group’s best singles ever, plus some outstanding non-single tracks including “Inside a Dream” and the Bruce Springsteen cover “The Last to Die.”

1. Please - 1986. One might look at this album and think the sound is pretty uniform and thus penalize it for not trying to branch out into different musical directions. Or you might look at how you could reorder the tracks to tell the story of life in London in the mid 1980s. You know the singles such as “West End Girls” and “Love Comes Quickly” but equally excellent are album tracks such as “I Want a Lover” and “Tonight is Forever.”