Sunday, June 29, 2014

The 44 Best Radiohead Songs

This list is inspired by a one-two punch of great Radiohead cover acts that I heard at The Rex last month.  The first was the Toronto Jazz Orchestra playing (you guessed it!) jazzy and big-band arrangements of Radiohead tunes, and the second was the more traditional cover band, a six-piece rock outfit known as Idioteque.  It made for an overall amazing night of music, with just the minor quibbles that the TJO didn't play "Life In A Glasshouse" (arguably Radiohead's most jazzy number) and Idioteque didn't play "Idioteque," which seems like a major oversight unless they NEVER play the song, for reverse obvious reasons. 

The evening really drove home a specific point about Radiohead's music.  It's true that Yorke, O'Brien, Selway and the two Greenwoods can sometimes get a little too caught up in being atmospheric and making technological sound collages rather than tuneful music, yet most of the time that electronic coverage is just dressing for some of the most truly gorgeous melodies any band has ever recorded.  During Idioteque's awesomely spare performance of "Nude," one guy in the audience just blurted out "This song is so fucking beautiful."  He wasn't drunk or trying to be a smartass by saying something amidst the general silence in the room.  I actually think he was legitimately so moved that he was compelled to say something, if perhaps speaking a little louder than he intended.  This is the effect that Radiohead's music has on people.

As usual with all of my "best songs by a band or a solo artist" lists, these are solely my rankings and are very subjective, even for myself; if you catch me on another day, I could rank these songs in a very different order.  While I've heard all of Radiohead's studio albums and a good chunk of their B-sides, I make no claim to being a completist about their work, so it's very possible they have a few hidden gems that I've simply never heard.  (One of my girlfriend's favourites, in fact, is the B-side "Polyethylene.")  I like lots of Radiohead songs besides the ones listed, yet these the ones that I'd consider very good-to-great as opposed to songs that I 'like,' if that makes sense.

I had an absolute hell of a time trying to pick my top choice out of the final four, by the way.  Enjoy the list!


44. Knives Out
43. Videotape
42. Go To Sleep
41. Talk Show Host
40. There There
39. House Of Cards
38. Karma Police
37. The Gloaming
36. Fake Plastic Trees
35. Black Star
34. Lucky
33. All I Need
32. No Surprises
31. A Wolf At The Door
30. Bullet Proof….I Wish I Was
29. 2+2 = 5
28. Idioteque
27. Creep
26. Sulk
25. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
24. [Nice Dream]
23. My Iron Lung
22. Stop Whispering
21. I Might Be Wrong
20. Electioneering
19. Bodysnatchers
18. Optimistic
17. The National Anthem
16. Climbing Up The Walls
15. Pyramid Song
14. Backdrifts
13. Airbag
12. Motion Picture Soundtrack
11. A Punch Up At A Wedding
10. Exit Music (For A Film)
9. 15 Step
8. Nude
7. Street Spirit (Fade Out)
6. Everything In Its Right Place
5. High And Dry
4. Just
3. Reckoner
2. Lotus Flower
1. Paranoid Android

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Random Nonsense


I went to see "The Immigrant" this past week due to my See Everything Marion Cotillard Is In policy, yet this one definitely isn't going into Marion's hall of fame.  It's a pretty lacklustre melodrama that is perhaps only notable because of its weirdly old-timey stylized feel to it.

If you could sand out the rougher edges (Marion's character being forced into prostitution, the bad language, her being sexually assaulted on the boat ride over from Poland), that wouldn't have flown in the days of the Hays Code, this film could've easily been made 80 years ago.  It wouldn't surprise me if writer/director James Gray was going for a similar type of feel as Todd Haynes did with "Far From Heaven," though while Haynes was specifically trying to ape the style of the Douglas Sirk 50's melodrama, Gray wasn't as focused and the film ended up as a depressing melange.  Jeremy Renner tries his best to bring some life to this unrelenting dark movie and Joaquin Phoenix seems miscast.  I don't buy him at all as a burlesque showman, though I guess his in-over-his-head awkwardness was kind of the point.
 
Even my beloved Cotillard is nothing special.  This is probably the worst performance I've seen from her, though it's not a bad performance -- it's a testament to her talent that her bottom of the barrel is only a C+.  Never fear, she still holds the title of Mark's Favorite Actress.  "The Immigrant" is only a speedbump before she stars as Lady Macbeth (alongside Michael Fassbender) in the new adaptation of the Scottish Tragedy, and yikes, my expectations couldn't be higher for that one.

----------

Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts were all great, but this is my favourite one.

-----------

It's a sign of a great game when it's still challenging and engrossing even after you beat it, yet for a brief period last week, I thought I had cracked 2048 once and for all.  I beat the game three out of four times, and wondered if I'd achieved some type of higher level of intelligence not unlike that of John Travolta in 'Phenomenon.'  Then, however, reality set in and I'm approximately 0-for-100 since, and I'm back to my usual Travolta-in-Welcome Back Kotter brain activity.

Overall I think I have six or seven 2048 wins thus far, and I'm probably too proud of this achievement.

--------------

Paste Magazine's list of the top 50 Britpop songs of all time is so solid that I really have nothing more to say about it.  How could I, given the slam-dunk awesome choice of the #1 song?  The obvious pick would've been to just go with Wonderwall, but Paste knows what's up.

If you go by the old belief that a person believes the music that was big during their freshman year of high school is the best music ever made, then that would explain why I still love Britpop so much.  (Also, I weep for today's high schoolers.)  I dug Britpop so much that about a decade ago, I bought a Suede album solely because I'd heard they were big in that scene, though I'd never actually heard their music before.  The record was terrible.  My belief system was shattered until five minutes after when I put on a Pulp album to restore my faith.

--------------------

This one is 95% for old-school pro wrestling fans and 5% for video game fans (though really, I'm not sure it'd be funny for them without knowing who Jim Ross is).  Anyway, it's a collection of scenes from games with some of Ross' best commentary calls dubbed over the action. 

For those unfamiliar with good ol' J.R., he's widely regarded as the best wrestling announcer of all time for a number of reasons.  What made Ross so suited for the unique challenge of calling the often-nonsensical world of pro wrestling is that a) he was a legitimately good play-by-play guy, with a background of calling both pro and college football, and b) often he knew when to play it straight and when to wink at the audience.  He didn't always quite act like things were "real," though he took it seriously, if that makes sense.  Of course, Ross being emotional added immeasurably to countless matches, though after the fact, his fired-up calls are pretty funny out of context.  A Ross-esque "Mah gawd!" has become something of an internet meme in itself.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Single Biggest Missed Opportunity Of All Time

No, not that time I didn't use that Yogurty's coupon before it expired, but rather the failure (of the Game of Thrones producers?  Cast?  Everyone?  Humanity itself?) to convince and cajole Queen Elizabeth to sit on the Iron Throne.  She was RIGHT THERE.  She was only a foot away from the picture that would've even topped Ellen's Oscar selfie as the most-shared social media image of all time.  I realize that it's difficult to cajole a Queen into doing anything she doesn't want to, yet still, surely Her Royal Highness would've taken a minute for a photo that would've broken Twitter.

There is not a doubt in my mind that when the Queen's visit to the set was announced, literally every person involved in the process had one thought: "have her sit on the Iron Throne, have her sit on the Iron Throne, have her sit on the Iron Throne..."  What a disappointment.  Granted, the likes of Joffrey or the Mad King have somewhat tainted the Iron Throne, but c'mon Your Majesty, at least Tommen seems cool!  He has a cat!

N.B. So weird to see Conleth Hill with hair

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Silicon Valley, Almost There

I'm all in on Silicon Valley, which won a solid bronze medal in my 'favourite new show of the last year' rankings (behind stiff competition in Orange Is The New Black and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) despite a couple of notable flaws.  At its base, the premise of spoofing modern tech culture by watching a fledgling start-up, uh, start up from nothing is a solid one, and when you add to it Mike Judge and a bunch of funny actors who I like, I'm sold.

As noted, there are a couple of flaws in Silicon Valley, yet these two birds can be killed with one stone.  The problems…

* the incredible Peter Gregory eccentric billionaire character had to be written off when actor Christopher Evan Welch sadly died of lung cancer.

* Amanda Crew's character (assistant to Peter Gregory) had nothing to do in the thankless role of voice of reason/straight woman/only competent person amidst this gang of weirdos.  I use the word 'character' loosely since Monica basically wasn't a character as much as she was a token female.  Even worse, the season finale hinted that she and Richard could become a couple, only underscoring her token-ness (token-tude?) even more given that she and Thomas Middleditch have less than zero chemistry.

So what's to be done?  Sadly, we can't bring Welch back from the dead, unless Judge has access to a time machine.  What we can do is help fill his character's void by more or less making Monica into his character.

The problem with Monica is, as mentioned, she's the only sane one amidst the group of Pied Piper idiots, yet since she technically isn't in the company, I already envision the risk of her being the deus ex machina to bail the guys out time after time.  Much of the show's comedy comes from the guys being in over their heads, so why not give Monica some of that mojo by putting her in over her head by suddenly having her as the billionaire behind Pied Piper?  Next season's premiere can begin with Gregory's sudden death, and the surprising revelation during the reading of his will that he left his entire fortune to Monica.  She's flabbergasted, and now finds herself trying to run a vast business empire that was specifically attuned to Gregory's weird habits.  The Pied Piper guys, meanwhile, suddenly lose one of their support planks as Monica is increasingly busy with the larger business and can't spend any time helping them with their myriad problems.

Funny enough situation, eh?  Be sure to spell my name right on the cheque, HBO!  (There's only one 'q' in Question Mark.)  Having someone vaulted into the world of tech corporate ownership seems like a natural avenue for satire, and Silicon Valley has been killing it left and right in poking fun and this world.

Eight episodes in and I have no idea if Amanda Crew is funny or if she can even act, which is a testament to how underwritten her character was on a show where almost everyone else from main cast members to bit parts got plenty of opportunity to be funny.  While there's nothing necessarily wrong with a male-centric show, the fact that Monica stands out as such a glaring weak link only highlights the fact that Judge's work generally reduces women to straight roles (with the major exception of Peggy Hill).  Monica can still be the sane one in comparison to the Pied Piper guys just because they're all messes, yet that doesn't mean she can't be funny herself.

Fix this issue and boom, Silicon Valley gets even funnier.  I mean, man, what's not to like about a show where grown men can threaten children with impunity?  "You just brought piss to a shit fight" is the line of the year.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I'm the lead guitarist and co-lead singer for a Canadian rock band.  I use the term 'Canadian rock band' to give you an idea of how popular we are, since I think the phrase invites a certain understanding of our mid-tier status.  For children of the 1990's, my band is the type that would have a lead single on the MuchMusic Video Countdown, but we'd top out around #6 or #7.  Our second single and video could also make the Countdown but get no further than #14 if we're lucky.

Anyway, that's what kind of band we are.  We're playing a show in a medium-sized venue, say around 1000-1500 people.  (If you've ever been to the Opera House in Toronto, it's basically that.)  It is, nonetheless, a packed house.  We're up on stage and, after the opening song of our encore, I invite my brother up on the stage.  My brother is dressed in a plain white t-shirt and beige cargo shorts, the same outfit he was wearing in our hit video, a cover of the Rolling Stones' "She's So Cold."  Our video for this cover was just my brother essentially standing in spot doing a very basic arms raised/legs slightly moving dance that you'd see from any guy who's trying to dance without actually knowing how to dance.  When I say this was 'just' our video, I mean it --- my brother was the only person featured, very similar to the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" video.

Anyway, my introduction of my brother gets a big cheer from the recognizant crowd, as he's become something of a viral celebrity due to our video.  He takes the cheers in good humour and good-naturedly goes his dance during our song.  And then I woke up.

ANALYSIS
: Even in my wildest dreams, I'm only in a mid-range Canadian rock band, though if you think about it, it's kind of the perfect type of stardom.  I'd never want to be actually famous since celebrity seems like an enormous bother.  If you're a mid-tier Canadian rock star, however, you'd get recognized maybe once a week?  Twice if you happen to venture into a used record store?  I could deal with that, for sure.  Just enough dap to make one known, yet not so famous that I couldn't go to the grocery store without getting mobbed.  I don't need paparazzi to see me buying my boxes of Rice Krispies.

Adding to this minor fame is the fact that arguably our biggest 'hit' isn't even an original song.  I don't think I've heard "She's So Cold" for weeks or even months, probably not since the last time I popped in my Stones greatest hits album.  I doubt I've heard it on the radio since frankly, if you're an oldies station and you're going to play a Stones tune, you have a lot of better options (still a very good song, though).  Therefore, I have zero idea why it's popping up in my subconscious, especially since our cover was about 96% the same as the Rolling Stones original.  For the record, I didn't sing, the lead vocals were taken by the other guitarist/singer in my imaginary band --- none of the faces of the other guitarist, bassist or drummer were people I'd ever seen before in my life.  They were just A Band (not The Band).

So anyway, the weirdest part of the dream is clearly that my brother is now The Dancing Guy From That Video.  This is actually the kind of quirky thing I could actually see him doing.  He once actually won a significant cash prize playing Roll Up The Rim, so all bets are off for zaniness in this kid's life.  Actually, the weirdest part probably isn't him dancing, but rather that we're getting along, as we're the kind of brothers who instantly revert to chirping each other and arguing like children whenever we spend any time together, even though we're both men in our 30's.  Perhaps music is the great equalizer between us.  We've been arguing about U2 and Nirvana for the better part of our lives, but maybe we can find common ground with the Stones?

It occurs to me that a video of a lone dancing man makes no damn sense for "She's So Cold," which is entirely about how the singer is so hot for a woman while she is (spoiler alert!) so cold to him.  Wouldn't it make more sense to show a split screen image, with one half being my dancin' fool of a brother, and then the other half showing a woman just sitting there?  It'd be the most PG-rated way possible of showing hotness and coldness in a relationship sense, but still, it'd be funny.  If we'd used this other version, we would surely have shot to #1 on the MuchMusic Countdown.

Also of note, we did have an original song kicking off our encore, though it was such generic Sandbox-esque or Odds-esque rock that I can't remember it.  Just great.  Paul McCartney goes to bed and literally dreams the tunes to "Yesterday" and "Let It Be," while I go to bed and can't dream up jack all.  Could it be possible that McCartney is a better musician than me?!  No….it's the children who are wrong.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Writing's On The Wall

You ever wonder if OK Go regrets that "Here It Goes Again" video and the subsequent decision to only make really elaborately-planned one-take videos?  Or do they embrace their niche in a world that a) doesn't really care much about their music anymore and b) doesn't really care much about music videos anymore?  I choose to believe the latter, since I'm an optimistic person!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Judy Greer, Best Pal

Judy Greer is super-awesome yet weirdly, I think her voice has been ruined thanks to her role on Archer.  Since Cheryl/Carol/Charlene is such a lunatic, everything Greer says is now painted with a "this is just a presumable to saying something psychotic" brush.  It's doubly odd since it's not like I have this feeling whenever I hear, say, Jon Benjamin's voice, or Aisha Tyler's, or Chris Parnell's, etc.  Just Greer. 

Anyway, I'll bet my best friends (if asked) would totally dress up as a fake bride in order to help me investigate a wedding.  Even my male best friends; I inspire such loyalty!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Cup Predictions

Who will win the 2014 World Cup?!  You could watch the actual tournament, but why bother since I'm going to totally accurately predict the entire thing right here.

Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico, Croatia
Brazil is obviously the giant favourite and then it's a pick-em for the second spot.  You can list the final three teams in any order and I wouldn't be surprised.  I'll go with the Cameroon side on a hunch.

Group B: Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia
It's kind of nutty that the two 2010 finalists were drawn together in the same group, and it's even nuttier to think that one quite possibly will go home before the knockout stage.  It'll all come down to Chile vs. Netherlands and I like Chile's home-continent advantage against the aging Dutch team.  Besides that tossup, Spain will obviously advance and Australia is obviously overmatched here.

Group C: Greece, Cote d'Ivoire, Colombia, Japan
Forget the "Group Of Death," this is the Group Of Confusion.  Any combination is possible out of this quartet, as Colombia's semi-favoured status took a big hit when Radamel Falcao got injured.  (Too bad, since 'Rock Me Amadeus' is a great song.)  I'll take Greece and Cote d'Ivoire in the full awareness that Colombia and Japan could easily advance instead, so I'll just fit back and enjoy this one.  I'm trying to talk my friends Mikiko (Japanese/Canadian heritage) and Joanne (Greek/Canadian heritage) to make a slap bet on either the Japan/Greece game or perhaps on which team advances further in general.  Or, TWO slap bets to cover both.  Suspense!

Group D: Italy, Uruguay, England, Costa Rica
Since England's World Cup chances are always overhyped, maybe this year they'll win the whole thing since nobody is taking them seriously.  I think everyone in the UK is trying to talk themselves into this reverse psychology, though I don't buy it myself.  Italy are the clear favourites, Uruguay has the home-continent edge (this will be a common theme in my predictions), England will suffer one heartbreaking loss the country can complain about for the next four years and Costa Rica will be happy to be there.

Group E: France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras
This is similar to Groups B, D and F in that you have a favourite, an underdog and two teams in the middle battling for that second spot.  It seems to tab France a favourite given how badly they crapped the bed in 2010 yet here they are, with their act seemingly cleaned up.  Obviously France aren't as big favourites here as Argentina, Italy or Spain are in their groups, yet it'd still be a surprise if France goes out in the group stage.  As for second place, I'll pick Ecuador in yet another instance of a South American side going through.  Homer picks!

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran
Because I'm a contrarian dope, I'm picking Nigeria to advance just because seemingly everyone has B&H going through and it seems a bit too easy.  Argentina will clearly have the run of the group and Iran will be satisfied just to get a point or three, so the Nigeria/Bosnia & Herzegovina game may decide things.

Group G: Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States
The dreaded Group Of Death!  (Though Group B is pretty deathly itself and Group C is scary due to its lack of major favourites.)  Though these are four very very good teams, it's not that hard to predict in my eyes.  Germany is obviously going through, and I'll pick them for first though a second-place finish wouldn't be a stunner --- the only true shock would be if Germany didn't advance at all.  Past them, the Americans don't seem to have the horsepower to actually beat the big boys, though they can certainly hang with them.  So it all comes down to Ghana and Portugal, and  I'll go against the chalk once again by picking Ghana ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo & Friends, since Portugal isn't quite as deep as some think once you get past their megastar.  Maybe I'm being sentimental in picking Ghana given how badly they got jobbed by Uruguay's handball in 2010 but what the heck, I'm Ghana go ahead and pick them to advance.

Group H: Belgium, South Korea, Russia, Algeria
I'm on record as thinking Belgium are overrated, but they lucked out by being in the easiest group of the World Cup.  They'll advance and be joined by South Korea, who I think are being somewhat overlooked here and definitely has the skill to outpace Russia.  This group is also something of a "favourite, two tossups, lagger" quartet though it wouldn't shock me if Algeria upset South Korea or Russia.  Hell, maybe they'll even upset Belgium and really make my prediction of Belgium's overratedness look bang-on.

Knockout round matchups…
* Brazil over Chile
* Uruguay over Greece
* France over Nigeria
* Germany over South Korea
* Spain over Cameroon
* Italy over Cote d'Ivoire
* Argentina over Ecuador
* Ghana over Belgium


* Brazil over Uruguay
* Germany over France
* Spain over Italy
* Argentina over Ghana


* Brazil over Germany
This, to me, is the real World Cup final.  These seem like the two best sides in the tournament and they're both dripping with talent.  Germany is always so, so solid in every single World Cup and yet I simply can't fathom picking against Brazil in Brazil.
* Spain over Argentina
Likewise, I can't fathom picking against Spain until someone actually beats them at a major tournament.  This side has already become all-time legends for winning two Euros and a World Cup since 2008, and another world title would likely earn them the distinction as the greatest team of all time.  That's enough for me to pick them over Messi's crew.

* Brazil over Spain
Yeah, the home side takes it down.  It's not a flashy pick or a suspenseful one, but as I said, it's awfully hard to pick against Brazil when possibly the entire country's sanity rides on the team's results.  I'll pick Brazil to capture their sixth Cup, this one perhaps the sweetest of all since it came on their home soil.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Luigi Death Stare

Luigi has had ENOUGH.  For some reason, the creators of Mario Kart 8 decided that whenever Luigi would blast another driver with a shell or other weapon object, he would unleash a look of utter disdain as he drove by observe.


That is an ice cold, Tywin Lannister-style glare right there.  That's the kind of look you give someone when they're going five kilometres under the speed limit in the passing lane while big trucks take up the other two lanes in the highway and you're just stuck fuming behind this whole procession not being able to go anywhere, until one of the trucks FINALLY moves into the far lane and allows you to get in front of the slowpoke and you roar past them out of pure spite.  Uh...not that that's based on personal experience or anything.  I wish my car had red shells.

Here's a collection of other funny "Luigi Death Stare" memes.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Other People's Writing

I swear, I read other websites besides only Grantland.  It's just that they publish so much quality stuff, and it's easier for logistical purposes if I just arrange a bunch of Grantland pieces into one post, and what am I supposed to do, start an "Other Other People's Writing" series for non-Grantland writers?  That would be madness.

* Michael Weinreb profiles one of my all-time favourite authors, the late Elmore Leonard in a piece so wonderful I've re-read it twice since I started writing this post.  Leonard was the best.

* Danielle Elliot writes about the work of Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, who….well, I'll just let the article's intro tell you the whole story.  "Before Brazil and Croatia play the first game of the 2014 World Cup on June 12, a paralyzed person will stand and walk on the pitch, then kick a ball. This is the story of the Brazilian neuroscientists who developed the mind-controlled exoskeleton that will make it possible."  This is mind-blowing, game-changing, humanity-altering kind of science right here, utterly fascinating stuff.

* Zach Dionne ranks every episode of Louie, and while I have quibbles with a few placements here and there, it's a pretty strong list (though "Barney/Never" should be way higher).  Though this show is only in its fourth season, because every episode is so idiosyncratic, it feels like it's been on a lot longer --- the recaps of some of the S1 eps drew 'oh yeah' reactions from me.  I'm not even sure how you'd go about ranking and breaking down the current season given that six of the episodes are part of one long arc, or hell, maybe the whole thing is an arc this year given various recurring elements (i.e. Charles Grodin's doctor character was introduced in the opener and has played a role throughout, Louie uses the hockey tickets he receives from his overweight admirer to take his Hungarian sorta-girlfriend on a date, etc.)

* Shea Serrano predicts how you (yes, you) would fare in a fight against various rap and hip-hop stars.  I'm not sure I 100% agree with Serrano's methodology here, since if Anderson Silva read this post, I'm pretty sure I'd take him in a fight over, say, DMX.  (Ironically, Silva's entrance music is DMX's remix of Ain't No Sunshine, so I guess they'd be fighting over royalty rights?  Wouldn't Bill Withers need to be the surprise third entrant to make it a triangle match?)  Also, there's a 51% chance Drake would knock me out?  Bullshit.  I'm not sure what Drake and I would fight about, other than if we held our birthday parties at the same Toronto bar on the same night and our respective guest lists got into an argument over use of the pool table.

* Alex Pappademas eulogizes Don Levine, the creator of G.I. Joe.  I learned a lot I didn't know about the history of the toy from this obituary, and learning is half the battle.  It's possible I could've learned just as much from a G.I. Joe Wikipedia article, though I'm not going to check it out for fear that I'll learn Pappademas just cribbed half his piece from the entry. 

* TV's Bill Lawrence details going on the road for a comedy tour meant to promote his new show "Undateable," and it's also a glimpse into just how much of a crapshoot it is to put together a quality show and then an even bigger crapshoot to actually get it on the air and then an infinitely larger crapshoot to actually get people to watch.  It's sobering advice, especially when even someone like Lawrence is down on the process and he's had a trio (Scrubs, Cougartown, Spin City) of successful, long-running shows.

* Rembert Browne goes all fanboy in imagining the perfect Jay Z/Beyonce concert.  While I'm a very casual fan of both musicians and I know only the major singles, Browne's sheer enthusiasm over every aspect of this dream concert won me over.  Don't get me started on what my dream U2 concert would look like, as I'd be here all day.

* Sam Knight looks at the rise of the Belgian national soccer team through the lens of Belgium's peculiar national identity.  Aside from the Leonard profile, this is my favourite piece of the bunch, even if I couldn't quite actually believe that Belgium is going to contend at the World Cup.  I see them as one of those mid-major teams in college basketball that has a big season and earns a #2 seed in March Madness, then everyone picks them as a dark horse national champion…and the team proceeds to get upset in the second round.  I wouldn't be shocked if Belgium didn't get out of the group stage (they're paired with Russia, South Korea and Algeria) and if they do advance, they'll face one of the big Group G powerhouses (Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana) in the first knockout stage.  The highlight of Belgium's World Cup run might be Knight's story.

* A look at some of the iconic NBA posters of the late 1980's and early 1990's, detailed by Netw3rk (one of the more underrated Grantland writers, I may add).  It's a nice article and a walk down memory lane, but mostly I'm including the link because it contains an image of this terrible Dale Ellis poster.  First of all, a Dale Ellis poster?!  Secondly, Dale Ellis' three-point sharpshooting made him my favourite player in my old Nintendo NBA game, and for a time my "favourite NBA team" in real life was simply whatever team Ellis was playing for that season.  As much as pre-teen Mark liked Ellis, there is no way on this earth that pre-teen Mark would've hung this hilariously awful poster on his bedroom wall.  Would thirtysomething Mark hang this poster on his bedroom wall out of sheer irony?  Maybe.