Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ranking Premier League kits

I've been waiting to do this for a long time, but I wanted to wait until the season started so we could see all the new kits. Here we go.

NOTE: Some people can't seem to figure it out, but the phrases in parentheses are in fact hyperlinks to teams' away and third kits, which are not pictured in this article.

20. Bolton Wanderers (blue away kit & navy third kit)

It's a step up from last year's strange-striped catastrophe, but Bolton's kits are still the worst in the league. Shady online gambling sites are all over European soccer jerseys today, but that doesn't make them any less horrendous. I respect that this is the only EPL kit currently made by Reebok, a company which happens to be from Bolton, but that doesn't excuse the giant Reebok logos on the shoulders (and shorts). For the most part, this is a soulless kit devoured by a betting site sponsor that doesn't even change its orange & gray color scheme to match the rest of the kit's white, blue & red scheme.

19. Blackpool (white away kit & blue third kit)

I appreciate kits that are made by companies other than Adidas, Nike, and Puma, but this Carbrini design is lacking. Once again, a gaudy sponsor with a color scheme that doesn't match the rest of the kit pukes all over this shirt. The shade of tangerine is a bit off, too. Blackpool has a great crest, but you can hardly distinguish it in this jersey. I'll cut them a bit of slack, though, since this is their first season ever in the Premier League.

18. Wigan Athletic (black away kit)

Another "good smaller manufacturer (Mi-Fit) but nevertheless a bad design" situation. Wigan is Mi-Fit's hometown team, which is nice. Most English clubs have a traditional, century-old design for their home shirt and are more adventurous with their away and third kits--a winning combination. But Wigan can't seem to decide what its "look" is, even for home kits. "I guess it's blue, with some white" is as specific as their identity gets. And the 188Bet sponsor is the same vomit that appears on Bolton's travesty of a shirt.

17. West Bromwich Albion (black away kit & red third kit)

Umbro is by far my favorite kit manufacturer. Clean, classic shirts. West Brom's shirts are fantastic. Great striping, a retro collar, and a striking black & white crest on the jet black away kit. So why is this uniform all the way down at #17? The sponsor. This is the worst ruining of a shirt by a sponsor in the entire league. Not only do the colors not work, but it's huge and obtrusive. I'm sure WBA management didn't enjoy not having a sponsor last season, but it meant their kits were vastly superior. Maybe this sponsor is going with the "it's so ugly they'll remember us" line of thinking.

16. Birmingham City (white away kit & red third kit)

Finally, a team with a well-integrated sponsor. The color scheme fits, and I've always thought the duality of the big F & C matches Birmingham's dual circle logo. Chinese manufacturer Xtep's big chevron design on the chest is pretty unique, but it still doesn't match the club's old Umbro designs. Otherwise, this is a pretty routine design with routine colors that don't stand out very much. Perhaps the fairly unremarkable uniform matches the fairly unremarkable club who wears it.

15. Newcastle United (blue away kit & white third kit)

Puma is the laziest of kit manufacturers. Newcastle's home strip is decent, but the club's classic black & white stripe pattern works despite Puma's design template, rather than because of it. Other than the home shirt, Puma completely phones it in with the away and third kits, which are variations of Italy World Cup jersey clones (and after Italy's World Cup, I don't know if teams want to draw that comparison). You'll notice this throughout the list with every single Puma creation. That irregular collar was nifty the first time we saw it, but not after 500 shirts with that collar.

14. Wolverhampton Wanderers (black away kit)

It's a shame the blue & red "sportingbet" sponsor colors ruin this one, because otherwise this Burrda kits stands out as a smart design. The shade of yellow/orange is unique and works well against the black details, and the collar is one-of-a-kind among Premier League teams. If the sponsor would change its colors, this shirt would definitely make the top ten--orange is harder to pull off than most other colors in clothing. And Wolves have a very un-English abstract wolf logo I highly enjoy--one that made a cameo in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If the club avoids relegation, I look forward to what they've got next year.

13. Fulham (red away kit & green third kit)

Kappa's design for Fulham would be spectacular if it weren't for the horrendous sponsor. I sense this "sponsor ruining a shirt" theme keeps reappearing... perhaps clubs should take notice. Anyway, "FxPro" wouldn't be nearly so bad if it didn't feature the "Trade Forex like a pro!" subtitle underneath it. Fulham has also got the most boring crest in all of England. But the shirt itself is sharply designed, and the away and third kits are real head-turners. If only FxPro could clean itself up, these would be A+ kits.

12. Stoke City (blue away kit)

Stoke City's kits have no real issues, per se. The sponsor looks fine, the crest looks fine, the design is smart, there's no problem. But it's just so regular that it becomes incredibly boring. The Adidas template reminds me of MLS uniforms, but in a league with far more tradition and variation, you'd think Stoke could come up with something more creative. Their kits will always be compared to Sunderland's, both because they're "red & white stripes" and because alphabetically, Stoke and Sunderland are even right next to each other. Sunderland has really outdone itself this year, and Stoke stutters in comparison.

11. Aston Villa (black away kit & white third kit)

Fulham's horrendous "FxPro: Trade Forex Like a Pro!" sponsor reappears in Aston Villa's kit, but it looks a bit better here... at least in the home kit, where the colors have been changed to match Villa's iconic claret & blue. On the other two shirts, it's just a gaudy red. When will sponsors learn? Anyway, the checkerboard trim down the sides is a nice touch, and Villa always have their sweet crest ("PREPARED!"). But even if it's not as ugly as on the Fulham shirt, the FxPro sponsor definitely downgrades the whole kit a notch.

10. Tottenham Hotspur (blue away kit, navy third kit, white cup kit)

I already reviewed these kits in one of my first-ever blog posts. Well, the home shirt is classy, and the new sponsor looks fine (the sponsor on the cup kit may even look better), but as I mentioned with Newcastle, Puma is a lazy manufacturer. Other than the home kit--which has fantastic shorts, by the way--Puma really couldn't care less about the Uruguay-crossed-with-Italy away kit. The navy third kit isn't great, but I appreciate the lime green trim; this should be the away kit. But I always thought, "at least the home shirt is original"... until Tottenham played Swiss club BSC Young Boys in Champions League, and I looked up Young Boys' Puma away kit. Ugh. I'll be glad to see Spurs switch to Adidas next season.

9. West Ham United (white away kit)

Like Stoke being compared to Sunderland, West Ham's kit will always be compared to Aston Villa's. And the Hammers have a smart retro outfit this year, an improvement over last season's. Small manufacturer Macron, throwback trimmings, a superior away kit, and the badass castle-and-hammers logo have even pushed West Ham above Aston Villa on my list, which seems like blasphemy. Hopefully this forces Villa to push the envelope next season.

8. Blackburn Rovers (red away kit & white third kit)

The ugly black rectangle around the Crown Paints sponsor (which is much better integrated on Blackburn's away and third shirts) is really the only reason this is down at #8 on the list. I understand it's tough to think of a way to make the sponsor look good on two different colors at once, but come on. Umbro once again produce a sleek, simple uniform, and I'm a sucker for Blackburn's halved shirts; I wish we'd see more teams with halves like this. A neat retro collar and a crest which adds a subtle red detailing to the shirt carries over to the away and third shirts, which all work very well together as a coherent set of uniforms.

7. Everton (pink away kit)

A lot of people are going to disagree with my placement of Everton's Le Coq Sportif kits so high on the list. They all hate the hot pink away shirt. But I think it's the greatest decision the club could have made. Like I said before, home shirts are meant to be traditional, and Everton's all-blue definitely does the job in that department with a smart, clean design and an awesome sponsor. Away kits are meant to be a club's chance to experiment. The hot pink is eye-catching, a color you hardly see at all in professional sports. French manufacturer Le Coq (the most suggestive, most French company name of all time) outdid themselves, especially compared to last season's abysmal "V" shirts.

6. Liverpool (white away kit & black third kit)

It's a shame Liverpool had to part with their righteous long-term sponsor Carlsberg, but the new sponsor isn't horrible. And the shirt itself is better; look at the subtle diamond pattern throughout the shirt. The smart design is definitely reminiscent of Adidas' great MLS kits, with one big difference: Liverpool's away and third shirts are awesome. You'll also notice despite my constantly saying "I appreciate small manufacturers," most of the kits near the top of this list are from major companies. I guess the big guys have the money to create the smarter designs with better materials.

5. Chelsea (black away kit & green third kit)

Some fans feel iffy about Chelsea adding a little red trim to their mostly blue kit... oh no, not red! But it's a nice touch. And overall, once again Adidas delivers a solid kit with a fine sponsor. There's not really anything else one could ask for in a Chelsea home kit. The away strip is modern and Tron-like, with details I like to call Neon Orange Pinstripes of the Future. When I saw the "macaw and navy" third kit, the first thing that came to mind for me was actually Scottish club Hibernian's away shirt. But Chelsea's third has a nifty blue stripe down the middle, I guess to retain the Chelsea-ness of it all.

4. Manchester United (white away kit & black third kit)

After Man U's former sponsor, AIG, happened to go down the drain, they scrambled to find a new one, and Aon looks even better. I feel a bit dirty the Big Four clubs are all so high up on my list, but much like the biggest manufacturers, the biggest clubs are going to sell the most kits around the world, so I suppose they put much more stock into having a solid look. Nike's new kit with the old-style collar is very '70s and about as sleek as they come. This is the ultimate Man U kit. It's as if Nike's actually learned something from my beloved Umbro (who they bought out in 2008), and hopefully this carries over to more Nike kits in the next few years.

3. Sunderland (cream away kit)

Huh? Sunderland? Well, it's an impeccable Umbro design with a well-integrated sponsor and a clean striped look. Normally I'd say Stoke has the edge over Sunderland, since Stoke wears simple white shorts that are coherent with their look, while Sunderland adds the unnecessary third color of black. But it looks fantastic here, and as you can see, Sunderland has spanked their fellow red & white striped rivals this year. And I love that the away kit isn't quite white; it's more of a cream off-white, which looks excellent with the maroon detailing and matching sponsor colors to boot!

2. Arsenal (yellow away kit & blue third kit)

As a Tottenham supporter, it kills me to say this, but Arsenal have majestic uniforms. After last season's disappointing shirts, this year Nike has again taken a cue from Umbro and created an ageless uniform. If I were a Gunners fan, I'd just be bummed out soccer works on this "new jerseys every season" format, because almost by default, anything other than this shirt next year will be a downgrade. The simple red with white sleeves, the fantastic cuffs at the ends of the sleeves, the A+ sponsor... it's virtually perfect. The away kit is beautiful as well, with this same basic template applied to a unique yellow & maroon color scheme.

1. Manchester City (blue away kit & white third kit)

Delicious. The epitome of the classic Umbro design, unique colors, a great sponsor, an iconic crest. I'm incredibly jealous of Man City fans. I love the subtle same-color stripes on the shirt, as well as the retro cuffs on the sleeves. I suggest clicking on the jersey to my right so you can get a bigger view of the most gorgeous shirt in English soccer. With Etihad Airways on this shirt and Emirates on the Arsenal shirt, I guess the lesson is: "Get an airline from the United Arab Emirates to be your sponsor." The dark blue away kit is equally classy, and features spectacular hooped socks. The nifty "T" collar design, along with its color scheme, reminds me of Dark Samus from the Metroid Prime video game series of all things. The third shirt with the sash provides a nice completely different take on the Man City identity. I love that on this shirt, the sponsor was even willing to make their logo smaller to better accommodate the design. These are the best kits in England.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sage Francis and Li(f)e

For some reason or another, I've been writing a lot about rap lately. But while Wale brings the more mainstream go-go-infused D.C. hip-hop and Boots Riley makes more political rap-funk, Sage Francis does his own thing. The Rhode Islander's music is much closer to slam poetry, with music backing all over the place that reminds me slightly of Gorillaz. I like all these rappers for different reasons, and Sage Francis has the most biting, bitter, cynical one-liners of all.

You can't be exposed to Sage Francis without noting his appearance. He's about the polar opposite of what you think of as a rapper: a bald, fat white guy with a huge beard. He got into rap at first through being one of the biggest figures in the Providence, RI slam community. As far as indie rap today goes, he's one of the best.

His newest album, Li(f)e, is almost a spiritual counterpart to 2007's magnificent Human the Death Dance. While Human the Death Dance is incredibly angry and sad, Li(f)e (which came out this May) is much more uplifting and hopeful. It reminds me of the way Radiohead's Kid A is "everything falling apart," and their following album, Amnesiac, is everything coming back together. Sage Francis is always very philosophical in the topics he writes about and there's still ample cynicism here, but now there are more songs about, well... life. The lead single from the album, strangely enough, is the final track, "The Best of Times." It's a chronicle of his life up to this point, reminiscing about being a kid. There's no way you would have seen this track on Human the Death Dance, but they're both great albums.

There are also a lot of songs on this album that tell stories. The album opener, "Little Houdini," is the story of a man breaking out of prison and committing horrendous crimes just to get back to see his mother again, who's dying of a terminal illness. "Three Sheets to the Wind," which has a fantastic thumpin' bass line, is more of a conversation with God. I've noticed a motif throughout Sage Francis' work is a connection between God and sexuality. At the end of "Civil Disobedience" on Human the Death Dance, he has a rambling one-sided dialogue with God:

"And to you: I know you. I know you much better than you think I do. I hope we meet sometime. I'd love to shake your hand and, um... maybe get a kiss right there, on my face. And uh, I don't know... maybe have sex a little bit."

The idea of sex with God is one that probably makes some people feel a little uncomfortable, but I love it in how jarring and powerful it is. It's a reference back to the days of Greek gods, who would sleep with mortals all the time. In "I Was Zero" on his new album, Francis raps:

"I find my part of the problem in part of me

There's always been a difference between who I am and who I want to be
It's either 'Jihadist freak' or 'Jesus seamster'
I heard God is coming, and she's a screamer."

But I think my favorite line of the album is a simple one that comes from the very eerie "16 Years," another song tracing back his life to high school.

"I was voted 'Least Likely'. That's it. Just 'Least Likely'."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thoughts on the NHL 11 demo

The demo for EA Sports' upcoming NHL 11 was released to Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network yesterday. I've spent hours upon hours playing NHL 10, so I was eager to get my hands on the demo for the new one. Thoughts:

The good
  • The revamped faceoff system is awesome. Tons of different options for the dot. I wonder if some of the techniques will be exploited online, though.
  • Broken sticks are a lot cooler than I thought they'd be. I love that sometimes the player can go pick it up, but sometimes it just sits there on the ice for 5 minutes like in real life.
  • I didn't really understand the "quick dekes" EA was touting until I actually played. It means while in NHL 10 you could only deke "left" or "right," in NHL 11 you can change stick direction mid-deke. It's invaluable on breakaways when you're trying to deke the goalie in a tight situation.
  • The Hockey Ultimate Team mode is awesome, and makes for a surprisingly beefy demo. It's very similar to FIFA 10's Ultimate Team, but it's much more refined. The whole "value vs. potential" aspect and limited training slots per player make every decision even harder. I will spend forever in this mode. And unlike in FIFA, NHL's Hockey Ultimate Team comes packaged with the game when it hits stores September 7; you don't have to buy it as a separate download.
  • Menus and interfaces have been partially overhauled, which I've wanted for a while now. We'll see if that carries over into every game mode.
  • The new TV-style presentation is spectacular, a huge step up from last year. I especially like the subtle touches of giving little details on the scoreboard before faceoffs, things like players' faceoff percentage and teams' power play efficiency. A couple little flaws I noticed in the demo though: info on players will have a background the color of their team (i.e. Flyers players will have an orange background), and when I played as a team with yellow info backgrounds, you could barely read the small white font signifying their goals, assists, etc. Also, when I played against Team Canada in the demo, the intro sequence presented them simply as "TEAM". Hope that gets fixed.
  • The Canadian Hockey League's inclusion is great for more than just the 60 extra teams you can play as. All these added prospects means that Manager Mode, Be a Pro Mode, and the new HUT mode will be much deeper than before.
  • The ice surface is a huge step up from last year; it looks more worn out. Perhaps that's why there are scratches all over Mr. Toews on the box art.
  • Player models, especially their faces, are upgraded from last year.
  • It'll take a while to get used to the new passing control (holding RT longer for harder passes), but I imagine once I adapt to it, I won't be able to go back. No more ping-pong passing.
  • The real-time physics engine means the hits look great, but I found myself pulling off massive hits far too often. I hope this is only for demo purposes, and it'll be toned down for the real game.
  • The new physics also mean the game has a slower, less arcadey pace than NHL 10. At first it felt like playing in peanut butter, but after a while it feels much more realistic than its predecessor.

The bad
  • Presumably, the Flyers-Blackhawks Battle for the Cup mode included in the demo is representative of the Stanley Cup Finals in NHL 11. Bummed out teams playing in the Finals still don't get the Finals patch on their jerseys, although I guess it'd be tough to generate random patches that haven't been designed yet for future Finals.
  • Also sad playoff beards still haven't found their way into the game--2K Sports' inferior NHL 2K series has had them for a few years now.
  • I don't like that the demo lets us see our team lifting the Cup! That would be like the end of Fallout 3 revealed in the demo. I understand it's there to get attention, but I still wish the demo ended at the end of the game. It's nifty to see the presentation of the Conn Smythe Trophy, though--I don't recall that being in NHL 10, but I may be wrong.
  • There's still the issue of jersey stretching--if a player outstretches his arm, you'll see the nameplate on his sweater stretch with it.
  • Judging from the sample of players available in the HUT demo, it looks like the Kontinental Hockey League and Slovak Extraliga haven't been added to the game (I'd also like to see the ECHL, but that's further down my wish list). It may be because of the huge addition of CHL teams this year. If EA can add the KHL and Slovak Extraliga, they'd have every major hockey league in the world represented in the game. Rumor has it EA is working with the NCAA to include Division 1 college teams in NHL 12. That will be awesome.
  • I hope EA secures the rights to the official IIHF uniforms for national teams, so we don't have to endure another year of national teams with "generic sweater + country flag" uniforms. It'd also be nice if we can pick if we want to play in North American or international-sized rinks, regardless of what team we're playing as.
  • We want to see the Winter Classic! EA Canada could even take the Ralph Wilson Stadium and Heinz Field models straight from the Madden team at EA Tiburon. There may be some copyright issues with using Wrigley Field and Fenway Park since 2K has exclusive rights to Major League Baseball video games, but I'm sure EA could find a workaround. If it were in NHL 11, though, it probably would've been announced by now. I hope it makes the cut next year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ranking Major League Soccer uniforms

It's been a while since I've done one of these. Unlike most soccer leagues around the world, all MLS clubs have the same kit manufacturer: Adidas. As we saw in my World Cup kit ranking, Adidas on average makes some of the best uniforms around. Some people may disagree, but I think this carries over to MLS having some of the best club jerseys in the world. The designs are clean, and the integration of shirt sponsors is much more fluid than on the kits of the best league in the world, the English Premier League.

NOTE: Some people can't seem to figure it out, but the phrases in parentheses are in fact hyperlinks to teams' away and third kits, which are not pictured in this article.

16. New England Revolution (white away kit)

"The Revs" have one of the worst names in soccer, and it carries over to their shirt. The soccer-ball-U.S.-flag crest doesn't signify anything about the team other than "we're American." I know they don't have a sponsor yet, but that doesn't mean they need "REVOLUTION" emblazoned across the chest in cheesy font--if the crest were better, people would recognize it as the team's logo and wouldn't need a redundant lettermark beneath it. I respect the whole "trying to give a city's sports teams a cohesive color scheme" of picking navy, red, and gray, but the gray on the shoulders just looks out of place and ruins the shirt design as a whole. The white away kit, devoid of these gray shoulder blobs, looks much cleaner.

15. Columbus Crew (black away kit)

It's a shame the Crew's spectacular pinstriped away kit isn't the home shirt. Instead we've got this eye-searing yellow with arbitrary noodle piping. The yellow wouldn't be as bad if it wasn't 100% yellow and there was more black to contrast it with. As it is, the uniform just reminds me of Barcelona's away kit from two years ago. There's a reason it was only an away kit. Back to Columbus, once again we've got the curse of the horrible team name leading to a horrible crest. I appreciate their homage to blue-collar workers, but why that image? It's like male models from a women's hunk calendar. The Glidden sponsorship could look better, but it could also look much worse, and gets bonus points for being an Ohio-based company.

14. Toronto FC (gray away kit)

Finally, a team with a simple name and a good crest. Toronto FC is going after a clean look, but the shirt design is muddied up in the same way New England's is: with random gray areas on the shoulders. The Bank of Montreal sponsorship (good that it's a Canadian company, but will be strange when Montreal joins MLS) would look better if they picked either the "BMO" lettermark or the circular logo, but having both makes the shirt too busy. Hmm... a team called "[city name] FC" nicknamed the Reds with an Adidas kit featuring both its sponsor's lettermark and logo... sounds like Liverpool and their kit. Perhaps TFC can learn something from LFC's sharply designed and vastly superior jersey. Right now it just looks bland.

13. Houston Dynamo (white away kit)

I wish it could've been Dynamo Houston--reminiscent of Eastern European clubs like Dynamo Moscow--or even better, its original chosen name of Houston 1836--similar to German clubs like Schalke 04. But Houston Dynamo is a decent name. Their choice of orange as their primary color is bold, but the "Space City Blue" or "Luv Ya Blue" (depending on what official source you read it from) makes the orange much less awesome. You should never contrast a light color with another light color. Combined with the very feminine swoopy stripe down the right side, this makes the whole kit not nearly as powerful as it could be. As much as I dislike the blue, I wish they would wear a blue away kit like the MLS All-Star jerseys instead of white, which adds a third light color to the mix. The Texas-based Amigo Energy sponsor is integrated well.

12. Chicago Fire (white away kit)

The Fire is another dumb name, but it actually makes for a pretty cool crest. Chicago has tried to modernize their shirt. Certain changes like the subtle lettering around the collar work, but other changes don't: turning the iconic white horizontal stripe into a strange band-aid looking thing and adding random stripes on the stomach that just make me think of the French 2010 World Cup jersey--I don't think that's a connection they want to be making. Strangely, the Best Buy logo on the chest looks great; good thing they decided not to use their price tag logo. Man, would that have been an ugly sponsor. The whole kit looks very sleek, but isn't nearly as flattering on more "portly" Chicago fans wearing the replicas.

11. Kansas City Wizards (white away kit)

A childish name, a boring crest that looks like the front of a train, and a redundant "KANSAS CITY" across the chest. There are a few redeeming factors, though. Kansas City is the only MLS club to wear bright blue at home, which is a breath of fresh air. The stiff collar is very wizardy, which I enjoy. The subtle yellow detailing is nice. And the weird piping bands around the sleeves, seen in many Adidas jerseys, looks great here. Luckily for the Wizards (who started out as the even more horrendous "Wiz" in 1996), there's rumor of a name change in the works for next season. I'll be writing about this in an upcoming blog post in the next couple weeks.

10. Colorado Rapids (blue away kit)

Colorado doesn't have a sponsor, and I appreciate that instead of putting a redundant "RAPIDS" on the front, they keep it blank. As a result, though, it's a pretty boring shirt that hasn't changed since last season. With the collar, it almost looks like just a regular polo shirt someone would wear off the field. But the great maroon color (consistent with other Colorado sports teams) offset by a nearly-as-cool blue away jersey (thank god it's not white) redeems the Rapids, along with their smartly-designed crest. It'll be interesting to see how the club incorporates a sponsor in the next couple years.

9. Chivas USA (blue away kit)

Chivas USA is one of the few MLS teams whose away kit is a completely different design from the home kit, and I like that a lot. The blue shirt may be fairly plain in comparison to the striped home shirt, but that's okay with me. The shirt's a step down from last year, though. The arbitrary noodle piping I mentioned with Columbus are present here, ruining a great striped design. Extra, a Mexican sponsor added right before the season began, doesn't look quite as classy as Chivas' previous sponsor, Comex. Strangely enough, the shirts still look better than those of Chivas' Mexican parent club, C.D. Guadalajara.

8. San Jose Earthquakes (white away kit & blue third kit)

Despite having possibly the worst name in all of soccer, the Quakes have a pretty good jersey. Bright blue on jet black is a striking color combination we don't see very often. The white piping around the shoulders are something we've started to see a lot on Adidas jerseys, but I think it works here better than anywhere else. Going back to my "I wish more teams wore non-white away kits" motif, I'd love San Jose to replace their unremarkable white away shirts with the incredible bright blue third jerseys they revealed a couple months ago.

7. New York Red Bulls (blue away kit)

The Red Bulls get a lot of crap for being named after an energy drink. But there are plenty of historic teams around the world built around sponsors (see: 106-year-old German club Bayer Leverkusen). And if you ignore the fact that it's an energy drink, it's a badass logo and a pretty awesome name--I just wish they'd go more by their formal name, Red Bull New York, instead of the colloquial New York Red Bulls. It also seems like Red Bull overkill that there's a giant logo on the chest-stomach as well as the badge on the left breast. You'd think you could just get rid of the little badge. Both their home and road jerseys have unique things going on with the collar.

6. Seattle Sounders FC (blue away kit & "electricity" third kit)

Another kit I like that everyone else constantly complains about. I seem to be the only non-Sounders supporter who actually enjoys the distinctive "rave green" home shirt. The crest is brilliant, and the green matches both the local business sponsor of Xbox 360 and fits in with other Seattle sports teams. The blue away shirt is much less jarring but another great shirt. However, I will not defend the retina-searing highlighter-vomit third kit. What were they trying to do there? If they were going after the bright green vibe, they already covered that ground to a reasonable measure with the green home shirt. Oh well.

5. FC Dallas (blue away kit)

I've whined multiple times on this list about teams without sponsors who put their club name across the chest to fill the space even though the crest makes it redundant. FC Dallas is the exception to the rule. It'll be nice to see a real sponsor replace "FC DALLAS" on the chest, but for now, the simple font makes it look great. And not enough teams wear hoops. They make this shirt stand out among a sea of solid colors. The blue away shirt is equally stunning, and makes it one of the few MLS clubs whose road jerseys are just as good as the home jerseys. FCD's shirts are also an exception to the rule in that I usually don't like color-on-color (i.e. blue on red with no white buffer) but on both of Dallas' kits, it looks great. Good thing they're not called the "Dallas Burn" anymore.

4. Real Salt Lake (white away kit & yellow third kit)

Dumb Real Madrid-ripoff name aside, Real Salt Lake has everything going for it. Probably the best color scheme in MLS, a cool-looking sponsor from Utah (XanGo), and a regal crest. The gold trim on the maroon with blue makes the whole kit look more refined and mature than many other MLS jerseys. By contrast, the team just started wearing mostly yellow third jerseys that immediately smack you in the eyeball. As with the Columbus Crew, I wouldn't like these as home kits, but they're not. They're thirds. And as with San Jose, I wish these brightly-colored shirts would replace the boring white away kits.

3. Philadelphia Union (gold away kit)

For a first-year club, Philly has got its uniforms on lock. A fantastic color scheme harkening back to the Philadelphia flag, the reference solidified with the big stripe down the center of the shirt. The uniform's main colors of navy and gold are complimented by a fantastic subtle light blue only seen on the badge and the piping across the chest. Since they're new, Philly doesn't have a sponsor, but they smartly decide not to put "UNION" on the chest, instead becoming the only MLS club with its crest in the center of the shirt instead of on the left. The crest, by the way, is the best in the league. It's a tribute to the Gadsden Flag. The gold away kit is also stunning--I'm not sure there's any other soccer team with this shade of brownish gold as the predominant color.

2. Los Angeles Galaxy (blue away kit)

The L.A. Galaxy have the douchiest name in MLS, but their kit is one of the greatest. No longer is it merely a Real Madrid clone. The blue along the shoulders and the yellow details on the piping and collar make this an incredibly smart, clean white shirt. The crest matches the rest of the look, and the LA-based Herbalife sponsor (which sounds like it should have something to do with medical marijuana) fits the kit. As a fan of Tottenham, who also wears white-with-blue and is rumored to be switching manufacturers from Puma to Adidas next year, I hope they can take a page from LA's book. The away kit is pretty much what you'd expect, and it looks good in its simplicity.

1. D.C. United (white away kit)

It's a pity D.C. United is having such a dismal season, because these are virtually the perfect uniforms. Many non-DCU fans trash our kits: "Such ugly black!" Hey, we were the first team to wear black, and we're still one of only two teams in the league to wear the color. Anyway, the jet black looks fantastic, especially with the new red detailing in the piping and the collar (I particularly love the collar). The Volkswagen sponsor is one of the few corporate logos I think legitimately adds to the artistry of it all--the shirt looks better than it did before the sponsorship. It's a simple yet iconic logo without the company's lettermark. Volkswagen adapted the design's colors to fit DCU's needs: black & white. Even VW's hometown club, Wolfsburg, didn't get the VW logo's blue background removed for their Adidas kits. Only two things could make D.C. United's kits more perfect. Change the four stars above the crest from too-shiny to matte, and make the shoulder stipes on the white away shirt red (like they were a decade ago) instead of black, a reference to the D.C. flag. Otherwise, these are some of the best uniforms in the world.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Boots Riley, the Coup, and Street Sweeper Social Club's new EP

Boots Riley is one of my all-time favorite people. His Oakland-based political rap group, the Coup (click the link, it's a fantastic song), has been around since 1991 and writes far sharper activist commentaries than any current political punk groups who've been around since then like Bad Religion or Anti-Flag. They're perhaps most famous to a wider audience for the controversy surrounding their 2001 album, Party Music. Slated to be released in early September '01, the album cover happened to feature... the World Trade Center being blown up. The band was forced to delay the album until November and change the cover to a much less offensive image. Riley was never quite satisfied with the change:

"There's been a whitewash in the media over the past couple days over what the US' role in the world is, and the fact that they kill hundreds of thousands of people per year to protect profit. Now how can I get to the point where I could be saying that on the world stage, and interrupt the lies that CBS, CNN, NBC, and everyone is saying? In my view, that [would be] by keeping the cover. Not because I think by looking at the cover you get all of this message that I'm telling you, but as a way to have a platform to interrupt the stream of lies that are being told right now."

I don't always agree with some of the extremes he goes to in his views, but I hugely respect Boots for what he does. In 2006 Riley teamed up with fellow leftist political musician Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame to form Street Sweeper Social Club, a political rap-rock supergroup. They released their self-titled debut album last year, and this past week, released The Ghetto Blaster EP.

Street Sweeper Social Club has got some great songs, but I can't help but think they pale in comparison to the Coup. Tom Morello is famous for his quirky effect-laden guitar playing, but it runs a little dry here. Coincidentally, Rage Against the Machine started in 1991, the same year as the Coup. But since then, while Boots Riley has come up with tons of different things to talk about (I continually enjoy each of the Coup's albums more than the last), Morello seems to be short on ideas. His post-Rage Against the Machine band, Audioslave, kind of sucked, and his guitar work with Street Sweeper Social Club just sounds recycled.

The Ghetto Blaster EP is a bit of a disappointment as well. That's not to say it's bad; the lyrics are solid and the music is okay, but it just doesn't innovate as much as it could. The EP is seven tracks: three original songs, three covers, and a remix. The three originals, "Ghetto Blaster," "The New Fuck You," and "Scars (Hold That Pose)" are fine enough, sound like many of the songs on their full-length album. The remix is a "Guitar Fury" version of one of the best songs on the full-length, "Promenade". The covers are the most interesting. One is a cover of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," which is pretty standard. One is actually a cover of a song by the Coup, "Everythang." The last is the highest-profile track on the EP, a cover of English political artist MIA's excellent breakout hit "Paper Planes". I love hearing people's re-interpretations of other artists' songs in covers, but SSSC's version is a fairly predictable guitar-driven version. I can't help but feel like this was a missed opportunity to do something much more awesome.

Street Sweeper Social Club is decent, but Tom Morello is dead weight on Boots Riley's musical expression. I can't wait for the Coup to start recording again.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best film I've seen all year.

I didn't have high expectations going into the theater to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It got mixed reviews from critics, and cinemas are billing it as a kids' movie. But as it turns out, Scott Pilgrim is the best film I've seen all year. Edgar Wright, Canadian indie rock, and endless video game references add up to a film right up my alley, even if it may not be middle-aged Washington Post critics' cup of tea. After all, you can't create decent art without alienating someone.

Mr. Wright, of course, is the director of two of my favorite films of all time: Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. His signature geeky attention to detail and super-fast cuts are present in Scott Pilgrim; you can tell he had a lot of fun making this movie. Michael Cera plays the titular character, the bassist in a mediocre Toronto garage band called Sex Bob-omb (a great Mario reference already). He falls in love with a girl who makes him fight her seven evil exes to date her. These are pretty much Scott Pilgrim's equivalent of bosses at the end of each level in a game. The film is full of colorful action sequences which are stuffed with video game homages, complete with bad guys evaporating into coins when they're defeated. Considering the movie is tongue-in-cheek, the fight scenes are surprisingly well-choreographed. Even though Pilgrim is a mopey little hipster, his uber-fast punches and roundhouse kicks to the moon reach martial arts film-caliber quality. This trailer doesn't do the movie justice, but it gives you a good idea of the combat sequences.

The film's structure, ample nerdy pop culture references, and completely over the top style remind me a ton of Japanese indie game developer Suda 51's fantastic-and-polarizing No More Heroes series. But Wright weaves these unrealistic, almost dreamlike sequences with the realistic character-driven scenes seamlessly.

Other than the Mortal Kombat-style graphics accompanying the fight scenes are a few more subtle video game references. One of Scott's friends plays The Legend of Zelda on his Nintendo DS throughout the movie, and you can hear the game music in the background of a few scenes. In one of Scott's dream sequences, the Zelda song in the background morphs into a fantastic orchestral composition.

As I said before, music is at the center of Scott Pilgrim. In addition to a soundtrack full of Canadian indie stalwarts like Broken Social Scene and Metric, music plays an important role in the story. Scott's band, Sex Bob-omb, must play a Battle of the Bands organized by a mysterious record producer named G-Man (a Half-Life reference?), so many of the fictional musicians in the movie actually play music the audience gets to hear. Some critics of the film complained that considering music plays such an integral role, they wish there were more "hummable" tunes to walk out of the theater with. But that misses the point entirely of indie rock written in the basement of a twenty-something in Toronto.

When I tweeted "Scott Pilgrim is the best film I've seen all year," I immediately got many responses of "OMG WHY NOT INCEPTION???" I suggest those people read my review of that film. Inception was a great concept with not-so-great execution. Its Achilles' heel was that it tried make everyone love it. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, on the other hand, doesn't want to please everyone. If you don't play video games, don't listen to indie music, and/or are over 40 years old, you probably won't like this movie. And that's the way art should be.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wale's Attention Deficit, and D.C. music

In the '80s and '90s, the Washington, D.C. punk rock scene was in full force. Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses--the list goes on and on. D.C. had arguably the most important indie music scene in the country. It died out in the '00s, where the highest profile band from our area was... Good Charlotte.

Today, really the only major successful artist from D.C. isn't a rock band, but a rapper: Wale. As far as mainstream rap/hip-hop goes, he's a breath of fresh air, drawing on his D.C. go-go influences for the backbeat of some excellent lyricism. I'm not into a ton of rap music, but Wale is effectively the flagbearer for our city's music today, so I had to take a listen. His full-length album Attention Deficit is a great mix of creative beats and hooks that make Wale appeal to a wider audience while still retaining his artistic integrity. His most famous song is undoubtedly "Chillin," his collaboration with Lady Gaga (huh?) which is basically a District of Columbia anthem.

Many of Wale's songs do fall into mainstream trappings, but his creative choices of samples to use as well as his fun-but-still-sharp rhyming style keep it interesting. He says he named the album Attention Deficit because the lyrics are all over the emotional spectrum; there are obviously going to be some cliche partyin' songs, but the topics range from politics to dealing with fame to racism. Perhaps my favorite indicator that Wale's heart and soul went into writing this album are the numerous Nintendo references: rhyming about Kirby and Punch-Out!! is something I don't think most MTV rappers today would do.

Oh, and Wale played the tailgate party before D.C. United's home opener this season. That always makes me like someone more. Did I mention he's rapped about Ovechkin, Eric Lindros, and the throat-slashing of Richard Zednick? And that he released two Seinfeld-themed concept mix tapes?

Hopefully the success of Wale will lead to a re-energized District music scene. He's no Ian MacKaye, but Wale shows the rest of the country that "Hey, there's something here besides a bunch of government buildings."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bradley's last game as U.S. coach, Nike's soccer commitment, and FIFA box art

If you watched Brazil's mostly-rookie squad spank the mostly-intact-from-the-World-Cup U.S. soccer team 2-0 last night, you may have seen Bob Bradley's last match as head coach. Since our Round of Sixteen loss to Ghana a month ago, his days have been numbered. Last week I wrote about Soccernomics' analysis of managers, so let's take a gander at Bob "Professor X" Bradley's potential replacement.

The name popping up most is J├╝rgen Klinsmann. As a player, the German helped die Mannschaft conquer the 1990 World Cup and the '96 European Championship (and he played 46 games with Tottenham!). As manager, he coached Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup, and went on to coach Bayern Munich until '09. He's currently unemployed, but Americans may know him as one of ESPN's analysts during the World Cup this summer (as a side note, say what you will about ESPN, but they handled this World Cup masterfully).

He'd make a great choice. As Soccernomics describes, no matter how much demographics change, continental Western Europe is still the heart of soccer. On average, German and Dutch managers are some of the most successful in the world. Many opponents to Klinsmann taking the job would say they want an American to coach America's team, but nationalism is a crutch. It's sort of an "affirmative action for coaches," where someone will get picked because they're the right nationality instead of because they're right for the job. On a club level, Inter Milan won Champions League this year with a non-Italian manager and a bunch of non-Italian players. Obviously with national teams the players must be from the country, but not the coach.

Klinsmann explained after the U.S. loss to Ghana that one of the biggest issues with U.S. soccer is the whole way our soccer system is structured. Kids are playing in full 11-on-11 games at a very young age and are great team players, but they lack any of the individual skill of greater soccer nations. In countries like Brazil, children simply play on courts and fields alone or with a couple friends, and they don't play full 11-on-11 matches until they're around 12 years old. This gives them not only more individual skill, but better soccer instincts. The fact that Klinsmann could point this all out hugely impressed me. I'm sold on the German for USA.

A more positive note from the hubbub around the U.S.-Brazil match--Nike released a new U.S. Soccer viral video. Watch for yourself:

This is exactly what they should be doing. I feel like this is "Compliment Major Corporations Day" for me, but the commercial represents a ton of money and effort poured into U.S. soccer. I wrote last week about their fantastic work promoting the underdog ideals of "Don't Tread on Me," and it continues with this video. As a film major, I love that Nike consistently creates intricate cinematographic experiences. But why target so much of it specifically at the non-traditional American soccer fan? It's investment toward the future: soccer is on the rise in the United States. The country is becoming more multicultural and soccer-friendly, which rubs off on the rising quality of the U.S. national team, which rubs off on Nike's sales.

Speaking of major corporations' investment toward the future of U.S. soccer, EA Sports revealed today Landon Donovan will be on the cover of FIFA 11 in North America, along with Kaka and... Carlos Vela? Why Carlos Vela of all people? Anyway, this box art is reminiscent of the FIFA 07 cover. Both the first FIFA titles immediately following a World Cup, they share strikingly similar covers:

  • -A Brazilian star who plays for a Spanish powerhouse in the middle
  • -a Mexican player on the left
  • -Landon Donovan on the right, and
  • -One of the two players flanking the Brazilian is wearing their national team kit.

It's great to see Donovan in his U.S. shirt on the cover. It's no coincidence, as EA believes the United States will be the biggest market for soccer video games in the future. Englishman Matt Bilbey, VP of EA Sports Football, says: "The U.S. market was our No. 4 in the world four years ago. This year it will be our No. 1 market." I don't know if I believe we'll surpass the U.K. this year, but definitely in the near future. Clearly, EA believes in U.S. soccer.

One issue I have with the cover, though, is their choice of Donovan USA jersey: the blue away kit. It's the one mistake Nike made this year. There's nothing wrong with the shirt itself, but the way it was marketed. The away kit was released months before the equally smart white home kit, and because of this, looking at fans at a game or on the streets, you see far more people wearing blue jerseys than white jerseys. Why would you make the away kit more famous than the home kit? If Nike preferred the blue shirt so much, why didn't they just make it the home shirt? Alas, that's life. And that's why Landon Donovan shows up in blue, not in white, on the cover of FIFA 11.