Monthly Archive for April, 2008

On squatting practices and research methods

My attempt thus far has been to keep the posts on this blog related to my study abroad in Amsterdam fairly generalizable — anyone should be able to, without prior context, pick up and read any post made on this page. Unfortunately, this has become more and more difficult as time has progressed, and I would like to apologize in advance to my readers for how contextual this post is.

On Monday, we were able to hear about three of the research projects that our group will be collectively executing during our stay in Amsterdam. Here is some commentary on the one I personally found the most interesting, the squatting group.

I must admit that I only had faint shadows of an idea about what exactly “squatting” is prior to hearing their explanation. My impression on the subject was that squatters were very little differentiable from the homeless, an impression which now would seem to be very much incorrect. As it turns out, there is a very definite distinction that squatters have – they own a space. This is not to say that they bought and paid for it, but rather that the Dutch government has enabled anyone to take over any abandoned private or public space a year after it has fallen into disuse. As long as the new occupant “claims” the space by means of populating it with a bed, a desk, and a chair, the space is legally theirs.

This is a fascinating take on a few of the more oblique issues with urbanization, and I certainly wish Isaac and Fiona luck on studying it, as it is a very compelling topic. From what I gathered, Fiona wished to study the aesthetic nature of squatting spaces: how the squatters decorate their squatting space. While this is a good way to investigate perhaps the squatter culture, I am not entirely convinced that a clear pattern will emerge – in my mind, squatters are mostly connected together by virtue of being squatters, and I have doubts as to whether there is indeed a unified culture that will extend as far as aesthetics. Rather, I think a perhaps more directly relatable issue would be perhaps to use the measure of aesthetics (and of course interviews) to determine the squatters’ attitude towards their space. How much do they see the space they occupy as being “theirs?”

Isaac, on the other hand, wished to study something quite a bit broader – whether the practice of allowing squatting makes Amsterdam more habitable. This seems at first glance highly counterintuitive – how would allowing the homeless to just take over spaces make the city more habitable? In fact, however, there are numerous advantages to this practice. First, it gets people off the street, and gives them a means to perhaps get on their feet. Second, it prevents buildings from falling entirely to disuse – squatters usually pay to keep the utilities running, and naturally do what they can to keep their space from falling into disrepair. This is an extremely interesting topic on a societal and a policy level, and learning more in this direction could be extremely illuminating about urbanity and urban planning in general. My only thoughts are that the topic is perhaps too broad; even with a focus on gastronomy, I think that perhaps contextualizing the actual research down to a particular district or even building/block would make it a much more palatable and digestible piece of investigation.

I unfortunately did not catch exactly what Cassie wanted to do with her research, as she was sadly not here in person to explain in depth her topic. However, I wish all three of them luck in their research, as the topic seems extremely interesting and compelling, and should be rather illuminating as urbanity pervades more and more into human culture.

NBC loses touch with reality

Every once in a while, you see a bit of news that makes you wonder what on earth executives smoke. This is one of those things.

Many of you probably heard of NBC’s little spat with Apple. The short version is that NBC pulled all of its shows from Apple (which were making both of them boatloads of cash), claiming that Apple’s restrictions were too tight. Apple then came out and informed the waiting public that NBC in fact wanted to charge $4.99 an episode, up from the standard $1.99 that it enforces across the board. NBC, of course, denied until its sales died.

Since then, there have been rumors of the two getting back together. NBC did one right and launched Hulu with Fox, which is an excellent service and which represents a vast step forward in traditional media’s representation in the internet world. My only complaint with it is that they no longer have the entire catalogs of shows that are currently running up for stream, which is an egregious error: this is the Internet, why limit content access and revenue?

Well, NBC’s chief digital officer George Kliavkoff has done it again. They want to return to iTunes, but they want to prevent anybody from putting their content on iPods.

I’ll say that again.

NBC will put their shows on iTunes, but they want Apple to prevent anyone from putting their content on iPods.

What?

The point behind the iTunes Music Store is that the content can be brought with you, that it can be put in your iPod. Most people I know who download television shows from iTunes watch them on the go. Once again, NBC misses the ball. Badly.

Someday, perhaps, a new generation of executives will rise who will understand the Internet and technology and what it’s all become. For now, we get to live under the wisdom and guidance of George Kliavkoff.

When your operating system fails to sell…

Much has been made out of Windows Vista’s failure, which at this point is rather (and unfortunately) undeniable. One particular topic of debate is the point at which XP will no longer be sold, which may perhaps also be characterized as “the point at which Microsoft starts shoving Vista down their customers’ throats.” That point is currently June 30th, 2008.

The problem, of course, is that no one wants anything to do with Vista. Downgrades are frighteningly common, and the operating system is simply not nearly as refined as XP is, by virtue of having not existed on the market for quite as long. In essence, in the process of waiting so long to release Vista, Microsoft shot itself in the foot by – directly or indirectly – refining Windows XP to the dreaded “good enough” point. Vista’s (lack of) quality, of course, did not help.

So Dell doesn’t want to sell Vista exclusively. People don’t want it yet, and Vista means more support calls, with questions that may not yet have answers.

Microsoft has the answer: sell XP, but we’re counting them as Vista sales.

Yeah, that’s right. When your operating system fails to sell, save face by pretending it sold. Here’s another idea, Microsoft: get it right with Windows 7. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with the highly questionable bookkeeping we’re not facing.

[Via Gizmodo]

The Waag Society and the indecipherable intentions

The Waag building and surroundings
Our last discussion of the Waag Society was perhaps incomplete. We never did quite discover what the Waag Society is, in point of fact. So I did some more research.

And I still don’t know.

The Waag Society claims to many things, and yet seems to work on projects in a completely disjunct set of many things. On their Organisation information page, they claim that their founding goal from 1994 is to exist as a “Society for old en new Media.” Other mentions of the society around the web also allude to this goal. Their site continues:

The Society’s -soon to be called ‘Waag Society’- mission was to make new media available for groups of people that have little access to computers and internet, thus increasing their quality of living. After a complete restauration of the Waag building, a small group of enthousiastic idealists began their activities in 1996. [sic]

So really, it would appear that their goal was not to be so much a society for the study of old and new media, so much as the promotion and enablement of new media over old media. Now, however:

The medialab developed into an avant-gardistic thinktank whith a lot of freedom. But with an eye for commercial possibilities: attempts were made to bring Waag prototypes to the market. Waag Society grew into an institution that was active in the fields of networked art, healthcare, education and internet related issues like bandwidth and copyright.

And yet it seems like most of their projects don’t reflect this new goal either, as given by example from my previous post. So, here is a question we may want to answer:

What are the Waag Society’s goals, and how effectively are the methods they employ achieving those goals? What effect have they had on the media landscape in Amsterdam?

We can begin to answer this question by putting it to the Waag Society themselves – through a series of interviews with their employees as well as their customers, we should be able to develop a good understanding of the organization and its impacts. Of course, there are moral implications to this study. Most significantly, we need to ensure that we do not invade the privacy of interviewees, particularly those not directly associated with the Waag Society. This involves methods for obtaining interviews, as well as the extent of interview questions themselves. Also important is that we gain a full understanding of the Waag Society and what they do, so that we do not misrepresent them in our final research.

The Waag Society and the symbiotic synecdoche

As a follow-up to the previous post on news sources, I’d like to comment perhaps on physical manifestations of the same concepts. Specifically, I would like to refer to the news as provided by people with a similar agenda as ours – the Waag society. While the form of media they provide is not directly what we wish to study – which is to say that what we wish to study isn’t necessarily particularly extant at the moment – their quarterly magazine represents an interesting fusion between a media instance of the news and research into society.

First, we require background. The Waag society primarily – as far as I can tell – focuses on performing projects that bring forward social unity and promote social progress. For instance, as a collaboration with the India festival in Amsterdam, the society put together an event, concurrent with a companion event in Delhi, which enabled participants to explore the city as a parallel of India: the theme was that of constantly shifting urbanization. Their goal was to allow participants to explore more of both the city and society of Amsterdam, and to bring the two together into a more unified whole.

Thus, the physical manifestation of their research and activities, their magazine, represents a form of news and media which seeks to promote and sustain the Waag Society. Their goal and their magazine are thus somewhat symbiotic: the magazine exists to sustain the goal by raising and maintaining awareness of the orgainzation, and the goal exists to provide the magazine with content. This setup is somewhat unlike most other forms of media, and thus represents a very interesting fusion of the topics we seek to study whil we are in Amsterdam.

On news sources and environments

News media

I have always been fascinated by the entirety of the news and media mechanism. Their implications on society are enormous – people need to be well-informed in order to make decisions, both personal and societal. Especially with politics, the agenda of the media is a key part of this informative process, and yet is nearly indivinable to the outsider, such as we are.

Of course, each outlet of the media has a different perspective, a different spin, a different agenda. Some are blatant, perhaps even revoltingly so, such as that of FOX “news,” while other outlets are less obvious, such as the conundrum that is the government-controlled yet somehow exceptional BBC. It’s hard to say with certainty about the specific agenda of most media forms and corporations. However, print, television, and radio news sources have all existed for long enough that a fair bit of analysis may be done on their archives and evolution.

One form of media that’s rapidly becoming a major news outlet, and which does not have a long history, however, is the Internet. Outside of websites maintained by the major news outlets, the Internet is an extremely odd news source – I have commented before on anonymity and the Internet, and the faceless, baseless form of web media are somewhat mysterious. In addition, nothing on the web is constant – corrections, modifications, and even wholesale deletions can occur in the blink of an eye without so much as a notice. This is, of course, irresponsible journalism, but such is the power that the Internet affords. The shortcomings of the Internet also rear their heads – entire sites can vanish over time due to neglect or budget cutbacks. Thus to study the news from the web properly, we need a comprehensive archive of work built in real-time – but this is not my arena, nor my current interest: please refer instead to the work of Kirsten Foot.

Instead, since studying the news media of the web directly is so difficult, I am instead interested in the habits of people in our society. In an age where a majority of peoples’ knowledge of the news comes either through the television set or through word of mouth, the transfer itself of news has become even more contextual. So, what happens when we remove that context? What happens when we take habitual people and transplant them into a foreign land, where they lack the means and mechanisms of getting news to which they are native?

Perhaps they fall back upon print media. Do they pick up a local newspaper? Do they pick up the New York Times? Or perhaps they resort to using the web. Do they read CNN.com, or something more esoteric such as The Huffington Post? How do these new habits compare to their old ones?

People like to gravitate toward the familiar, the native. The mediums and outlets to which people resort when they find themselves in a distant land says much about those mediums and outlets. If people do resort to using the web to obtain their news, then a comparison between their choices online and their choices offline at home is an effective and indirect way to study something as difficult to study as the Internet.

Photo credit: Birdfarm via flickr.

A phenomenon brought into focus

Photos are coming soon.

The idea broadsided us on a leisurely Saturday afternoon, as such ideas delight in doing. Tasked with performing a cursory inquiry into a potential local research question, we had planned on making a trip to the Ave to flesh out our fragmented ideas of studying something related to physical location and ethnic makeup on a street defined by location in its proximity to a particular university campus and its ethnicity, embodied by its smorgasbord of culture-specific restaurants and boutique shops. We never got there.

Instead, as we crossed the Quad in a distracted state searching for friends, we suddenly saw a phenomenon which most students and the University have gotten used to in due time in a different light – the Quad was covered in chalk. This particular campus meme began with the self-promotion of Qdoba’s new location several months ago by means of simply writing the name of the subject in white chalk all over campus. It was remarkably effective in obtaining mind-share, and reasonably permanent – one particular instance upon a pillar in front of McMahon hall persists to this day.

Thus, we retooled our research premise and began photographing chalk markings around campus instead of taking the journey over to the Ave. Two patterns emerged: first, nearly all of the chalk markings were advertisements for campus events (with a number of rather obscene exceptions), and second, most of these events pertained to either cultural or philanthropic events. These two observations, along with the very nature of the markings themselves, serve as trailheads for potential research questions.

Perhaps the most relevant and immediate question pertains to the effectiveness of this means of communication. When I have mentioned these advertisements in the past, some people note the same general observations I do, while some people haven’t the faintest inkling as to what I am referring to – they simply do have not noticed the proliferation of messages appearing on the ground upon which they walk.

The most direct way of addressing this question is to address the human subjects – this would involve utilizing Lynch’s subject observation method to a great extent. We could approach this several ways – we could ignore the chalk’s existence and lead the subjects in a walk around the Quad and the HUB, taking note of whether they observe that the chalk is there, and if so, whether they bother to examine the actual message of each instance, or we could address nothing but the chalk and simply show subjects photographs of the markings, asking them to verbalize their immediate observations. Of the two of these approaches, the first is much more relevant to the question, noting the extent to which subjects read into the chalk without being directed to do so, but the second method is also interesting for analyzing the content itself of the markings.

The results of this small inquiry have very little bearing upon my initial research interests, those being related to news and news mediums. However, the concept of observing chalk as a communication method, or potentially as physical traces, is similar to another idea we considered for Amsterdam, which was to address graffiti in the city; we got no further than the initial idea, however.

Intel’s Atom – or, how I learned to stop worrying and love efficiency

Hardware enthusiasts will remember the hubbub made out of the development and impending release of the Cell processor back in 2005 and 2006. A joint effort by sony, Toshiba, and IBM, the Cell processor was supposed to revolutionize the electronics industry, rock the core of it to its bone. The basis of the Cell ideology was to be that it produced high performance not by virtue of running necessarily fast, but instead through its networking capabilities with other Cell processors. The Cell itself was supposed to be tiny enough to put in everything – your TV, set-top box, radio receiver – even your refrigerator and microwave were supposed to be able to accommodate the Cell, it would be so cheap and tiny. And, when they all talked to each other, your home would become a veritable supercomputer. Of course, the fact that the first application of this mythical technology was to be a next-gen gaming console whose power would rival that of desktop computers at its launch should probably have been enough of a warning that this would not be the case, but nevertheless the Cell has yet to find its way into my alarm clock.

So the idea of desktop-class processors powering your everyday household appliances was lost to the ages – for a time. Apparently, and incredibly, Intel has been paying attention, and have given the concept try itself – and this time, it looks like they may be successful. Their strategy is to put a cheap implementation of x86 on a chip that is easy to manufacture in droves and runs cool enough that it does not require auxiliary cooling. “But wait,” you say, “the x86 is the architectural brain behind the Pentium and Athlon chips! That’s desktop class! Intel has already made its first folly and we haven’t yet begun.” And you would be right, of course, if Intel has approached this chip with the same mindset as it had with the Pentium (especially the miserable Pentium 4, which gave us the horrific NetBurst architecture). But there’s more.

The power of the x86 ISA isn’t necessarily in any particular design strength. In fact, it is an architecture with a number of marked flaws and weaknesses, particularly a slight dearth of available registers. Rather, the power of the x86 is in its popularity – everything these days is written for x86, and the resulting pre-existing libraries and optimization knowledge is a huge boon for any project that deems to use it. And of course, Intel itself has had substantial experience with the x86 set itself. So, they began there.

I will only cover the technical details of Intel’s entrant into this market, called the Atom (and codenamed Silverthorne) in brief. For significantly greater detail, you could peruse the Anandtech article on the subject. In short, the Atom is tiny, efficient, and reasonably fast. Its most interesting architectural feature is that rather than allowing out-of-order execution, the Atom is strictly in-order. This means that if the Atom runs across an instruction that it knows will require main memory access (an incredibly slow process in terms of the sheer speed at which processors run), it cannot take the liberties nearly every processor since the original Pentium has done, and choose other instructions to run first. The reason for this decision is due to the aspect of the Atom that I find much more interesting – the emphasis of efficiency in the development process.

The implications of the adoption of this particular mindset is a revolutionary one for Intel, and one that should be adopted across all projects, not just the Atom. Already on a solid path of recovering the CPU crown from AMD after the dark years, Intel had already begun to push efficiency with its various and successful Core architecture processors. However, Atom takes it a step farther. While the standard mantra in Intel right now is that if a feature will increase performance by 1%, it may increase power consumption (and this heat dissipation) by no more than 2%. With Atom, this latter statistic has been reduced to 1%, the result of which is that the Atom runs at incredibly fast speeds – up to 1.8Ghz – without need for any sort of external cooling whatsoever. This accomplishment is also due in part to Intel’s success with the 45nm fabrication process, and the size of the Atom – less than a quarter of a penny – means that Intel can manufacture these things for an estimated $10 $6 a pop.

Another interesting feature of the development process of the Atom was that the processor itself was designed in incredibly small chunks, or “modules”, of which each developer was in charge of several. This means that developers are able to work more freely from the constraints of the processor development process, with the various stages, especially layout, less locked together. In addition, this made locking the footprint of the die down much easier – if any developer wanted more space for one of their modules, they were required to convince a neighboring module to give up some room.

It remains to be seen whether the Atom processor will revolutionize the consumer electronics industry. I hope it does, as the machines people buy these days are in increasing need of such technology – Blu-ray and (hah) HD-DVD players are becoming increasingly slow, and televisions are having to deal with increasingly ridiculous resolutions, resulting already in a slight lag that any serious gamer would have noticed by now. It will also make Intel spades of money, which isn’t a good thing for the yet-again underdog AMD (which I still hope will make a comeback after the terrible Phenom), but the beauty of the decision to use x86 shines through again – AMD could easily manufacture competing chips. VIA has been in the low-power x86 business for years, with its nano- and pico-ITX classes of ridiculously tiny x86 computers.

What can be seen immediately, though, is the benefit the development process of the Atom can and hopefully will have on Intel’s general mindset. Efficiency and modular development are features that will benefit not only Intel, but consumers as well.

Fitna.

I had heard about the “controversial” film Fitna in the days prior to this posting, but I had not found reason to watch it until I noticed that screening it would soon become necessary for discussion in the context of my Amsterdam class. So I watched it just now.

我的天啊!

I am speechless.

My only context for the film was twofold: an assumption that the film was about Islam, gleaned from its shared name with the term used for the Islamic civil wars, and the fact that it was “controversial,” a bit of news gathered from various blogs I read detailing its existence on Google Video. I had always assumed that this film would be “controversial” in the way that a political blog like Daily Kos is, or in the way that the great Martin Luther King was at some point “controversial” – that is, that they examine what is already a controversial subject (political news and racism, respectively), and draw certain insightful but not necessarily politically safe analyses and conclusions from them.

This is nothing like that.
This is more akin to terrorism.

The film is shocking. The use of footage from September the 11th in its opening is only the first in a long string of shocking imagery used in the film. The quote from the Qur’an in the beginning of the film isn’t an introduction, isn’t a hook, isn’t a piece of food for thought; it and its successive siblings are rather the focus of the film, it and its successive siblings are rather the foreground against which the film’s shocking images are set, it and its successive siblings are rather the disquieting fragments of text from an already fragmented text called out to be wielded in some unseemly fashion to illustrate some unseemly point which, try as I might, I fail to comprehend in the slightest.

The film is shocking. The film is beyond hyperbole, and this statement is far from it. Indeed, I find myself sitting here writing this post of my own volition, before knowing what the content of it is supposed to be simply because I feel compelled to write something about its grotesque nature at this very moment. There are, of course, other reactions.

There are also less reactionary and perhaps more rational and scholarly approaches to discussing the film – not on the merits of its content, which are beyond hope for any sort of academic study, but rather in terms of the social roots of its existence and of its topic. I could discuss the film’s religious roots, discussing the effects of perspective upon various views of the world, but this line of discussion has been done to death by minds greater than mind, and are not what I find immediately stimulating.

Rather, I would like to discuss the issue of the freedom of speech: what does it mean and where does it cease? Unfortunately, I have no answers to this question, and thus I am unable to provide a particularly proper discussion on this issue. In my opinion, there is no such thing as overstepping the bounds of the freedom of speech. Society is self-balancing, and if one does make a statement this controversial, the social backlash and implications thereof are likely to rectify any damage one may have done or attempted to do. However, I find it incredible that there was considerable issue raised with video sharing sites’ decisions on whether or not to allow the video to be shared. Put simply, the laws and rights of free speech cease once one intrudes upon private property. These companies have a right to look out for their employees’ security (which prompted the original distributor LiveLeak.com to remove the video for several days), but also to their own interests, and avoiding the center of controversy certainly falls in that category.

Top 15 Albums of 2007: 5-1

And now, without further ado, the top five albums from the year of 2007.

5. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
Fear of a Blank Planet
Steve Wilson had a good year on this list; previously listed for his side project Blackfield and its album Blackfield II, his perhaps more famous band Porcupine Tree is here as well. Porcupine Tree has had a long history of gradual transmutations, coming into existence as a fictional name for Wilson’s own musical experiments before becoming a real band comprised of multiple corporeal people, though the music itself is still very much Wilson’s alone. As well, while Wilson has always been preoccupied with creating lush productions with various experimental elements, he used to insist adamantly that Porcupine Tree is not progressive rock in nature. This certainly turned around with the release of the band’s most celebrated album, Deadwing, which was an absolutely beautiful piece of music ranging the gamut in musical styles and emotions. Fear of a Blank Planet, then, is up against an incredibly hard act to follow. Clearly it fared rather well, considering its position on this list, but while spectacular in every way, Fear falls short due to a shortcoming in its very nature: the album itself is a concept album focusing on the apparent and supposed growing disconnect between today’s youth and reality (itself a topic of discussion), and thus is comprised almost entirely of the angry, the haunting, or the brooding. While epic and remarkable in every way, this narrow spectrum of emotion leaves the album devoid of some of the more beautiful moments of Deadwing, and does seem a bit disappointing.
Key Tracks: My Ashes; Anesthetize; Sentimental

4. Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills
Our Ill Wills
Very contrary to the title of the album, Our Ill Wills is entirely devoid of ill wills or unhappy music; indeed it is filled to the brim with happy indie pop. Perhaps very standard as far as the indie pop genre goes, it is the catchiest damn indie pop I have heard all year long, and it very much earns its spot on this list. With a long series of short tunes, Shout Out Louds have created an album that defies any sort of advanced description I may attempt to lay down here. With never-ending explosions of joyously arranged strings, guitars, and other more exotic instrumentation, the band lays down a framework that is hard to resist. The overall cheerful tone of the music does, however, clash somewhat with the lyrics, as all manner of moods, from the melancholy to the morose, are explored with the same upbeat writing as the appropriately joyous. Especially odd is the line "I lost all my friends in an accident," which is eerily set against a particularly major melody. Regardless, the album is worth it for its overflowing indie pop perfection.
Key Tracks: Blue Headlights; Normandie; Don’t Get Yourself Involved

3. Streetlight Manifesto – Somewhere in the Between
Somewhere in the Between
Streetlight Manifesto is truly one of the cornerstones of the modern ska landscape. Tomas Kalnoky’s departure from Catch-22 set that particular band on an entirely different course than he had set with Keasbey Nights, leaving something of a void where his considerable songwriting influence used to exist. His return with Streetlight Manifesto resulted in Everything Goes Numb, which has been about as heralded and beloved as, say, running water. Having pushed out such an amazing and perfect piece of music Streetlight took to touring for a number of years, and finally returned to the studio to record Somewhere in the Between, a process which was likely delayed somewhat by having been robbed of nearly all their equipment while touring. Faced with the monumental task of surpassing the already impeccable Everything Goes Numb, it should be a given that many will come to the conclusion that the band fell short. This is far from the truth. While Somewhere in the Between will never be as iconic as Everything Goes Numb, it is an incredibly strong album and stands on its own as a worthy sophomore effort (the Keasbey Nights re-recording doesn’t count). The most noticeable difference between this album and its predecessor is that the sound has been tightened up significantly – the horns sound more like a professional jazz band and less like a boisterous backup to a bar band. This isn’t to say that they played poorly before, they were in fact splendid, but the tighter playing creates a different kind of energy: focused and powerful rather than raw and powerful. For the purposes of a studio album, this is the right approach to take. Hopefully they resume the raw intensity for live performances. There isn’t much else to say about Somewhere in the Between; either you will enjoy it or you will not. Give it a shot, it’s a great album.
Key Tracks: We Will Fall Together; Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Cafe; Somewhere in the Between

2. Radiohead – In Rainbows
In Rainbows
I am not necessarily a huge Radiohead fan; I stand more as a casual observer, having dabbled in their works before, but never having taken the plunge. However, this album is different.
This album is perfection.
From the first moments of arrhythmic electronic percussion in 15 Step to the final notes of Thom Yorke’s lonely crooning against a percussion line falling systematically apart in Videotape, this album is perfection. Nothing is here that shouldn’t be, and everything is here that needs to be. Atmospheric, moody, and poignant, the ten songs in the album are exactly where and what they were meant – nay – destined to be. The bass lines throughout the album perfectly complement the textures and chords laid down by the rest of the band, and Yorke’s vocals are appropriately lamentful throughout. Something must be said for the fact that upon the release of this album, every one of the ten songs on the album held the top ten spots on the most played tracks on last.fm by a healthy margin from any competition at number 11 for nearly four months in a row. There is nothing more to be said: this album is perfection. I did, however, just learn that I will miss their concert in Seattle by four days owing to being out of the country, which makes me rather unhappy.
Key Tracks: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi; House of Cards; Jigsaw Falling into Place

1. Symphony X – Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
With perfection already reached, how does this album rank in first place? The answer is, of course, by being better perfection. With Paradise Lost, Symphony X have simply created an album so intense, so technically and musically proficient, and so poignant that it managed to beat out all of these albums. The band seems to have taken a slightly different direction with the new album. By contrast for example, my previously favorite Symphony X album, V: The New Mythology Suite, incorporated copious amounts of symphonic elements and influences, with an ever-present orchestra playing metal-ized versions of classic works by Bartók, Verdi, Bach, and Mozart forming the backdrop for a very classically Symphony X storyline involving mythology, magic, and fantastical battles. The reason V was my favorite album was due to the sheer volume of classical content in the writing: it was everpresent, overbearing, and thus made V a markedly different album. Instead this time, Symphony X focuses on the traditional progressive metal ensemble rather than the string section, perfecting the neo-classical elements of their music, without falling into the trap of following Yngwie Malmsteen’s path. Rather, the classical elements are so integrated into the heart of the decidedly metal songwriting that they don’t pop until you really listen for them. This subtlety of classical elements belies a foundation entirely based upon classical music of both song and line structure which the band seems to have completely mastered. Moreover, where it may be evident from the rest of this list that a variety of emotions and musical styles are extremely important to me when listening to music, Symphony X pushes their boundaries here just enough to satiate. Granted, were they to write an entire album consisting simply of Michael Romeo’s ridiculous shredding, I would probably be equally happy, but they resist from following that path, with a number of well-executed and well-placed ballads. In addition, Russell Allen continues to prove his incredible abilities as a vocalist with a decidedly harder, angrier vocal style without falling to angst. Paradise Lost is, simply put, the best album of 2007. Go buy it.
Key Tracks: Oculus ex Inferni; Paradise Lost; Revelation (Divus Pennae ex Tragoedia)