Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bumgarner for the Ages

Madison Bumgarner pitching in epic relief, saving last night's World Series Game Seven for the San Francisco Giants.  He is being compared with many of baseball's greatest pitchers this morning. But I think the best comparison might be with Grover Cleveland Alexander (see my post) in 1926. Bumgarner's total pitching record over three World Series' gives him a 0.25 ERA, the lowest in baseball history.
The first time I heard about Madison Bumgarner was in Game Four of the 2010 Division Series at Turner Field.  The San Francisco Giants led the series 2 games to 1 and Bumgarner was their number four starter against the Atlanta Braves ace, at the time, Derek Lowe.  I figured Lowe would be able the handle the Giants' bats and we might have some offensive success against San Francisco's "last" starter.  But Bumgarner pitched six strong innings and beat the Braves 3-2 in what turned out to be Bobby Cox's last game.  So, for me, it was hello Madison.

Bumgarner went on to pitch an outstanding 8-innings of shut-out ball against the Texas Rangers in Game Four of the 2010 World Series.  I was impressed.  He threw 7 more innings of shut-out ball against the Detroit Tigers in Game Two of the 2012 World Series.  This guy proved he was a clutch pitcher.

At least I thought he had "proved" it.  But nothing compares with what he did in 2014 World Series, especially in last night's exciting Game Seven against the Kansas City Royals.  I was excited about the series going seven games because this gave former Braves pitcher Tim Hudson a chance to start in a game that is every baseball fan's childhood dream.  Game Seven.  All or nothing. But Hudson did not fare so well and left the game in the second inning.  

Let's rewind to Game One.  Bumgarner cruised through seven strong innings for a 7-1 Giants win. His turn to pitch came up again in a crucial Game Five.  This time he pitched a complete game (almost unheard of in today's postseason baseball) for 5-0 Giants victory.  To their credit Kansas City came back to tie the series, pounding the Giants in Game Six 10-0.  This put everything on the line for the final game of the series...and it put Bumgarner in the bullpen.

Even though he had pitched a complete nine-innings two games earlier, Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought Bumgarner in on very short rest in the 5th inning.  I was watching this happen and announced to Jennifer that this was a pretty big deal.  I figured Bochy would use him for 2-3 innings before working in his closer.  Wrong.  Last night Bumgarner was the closer.  He got the first save of his career with another five innings of shut-out ball.  Giants win 3-2. They are World Champions.

Right now there is no better pitcher on the planet than Madison Bumgarner.  And he is one of the greatest of all time.

How great?  According to Sports Illustrated, Bumgarner's performance ranks fifth all-time in a World Series.  (It is interesting to note that the Braves' Lew Burdette ranks second on their list for his performance in 1957.)  According to The New York Times: "Bumgarner’s final World Series line sparkles: 2-0 with a save and a 0.43 earned run average, with nine hits, one run, one walk and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. Add in 15 scoreless innings in earlier victories, against Texas in 2010 and Detroit in 2012, and you get a 0.25 E.R.A. that ranks as the best in World Series history, minimum 25 innings."

Bumgarner's performance ranks him alongside such select baseball pitchers as Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson.  But the perhaps the best direct comparison is with Grover Cleveland Alexander who won two games in the 1926 World Series and came in to save that Game Seven, apparently with "one hell of a hangover."  To my knowledge, Bumgarner did not have a hangover as he pitched last night.  

Given the results he might have one this morning, however.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Into Syria: The Battle for Kobani

ISIS fighters planted the Islamic State flag on a hill overlooking Kobani early on in their attack.  This hill was recently retaken by the Kurds.
Since my post on the US launching an air campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq, the situation has broadened considerably.  For the past few weeks operations have included strikes against Islamic State (ISIS aka ISIL) infrastructure targets in Syria, in addition to continuing operations in Iraq.

The Islamic State is a rogue nation but it nevertheless "governs" large swaths of Iraq and Syria.  Its capital is Raqqa where most of its command and control is concentrated.  For that reason, on September 22, when Nobel Peace Prize winning President Obama ordered the US military to strike targets in Syria in an attempt to degrade ISIS war-making capabilities, Raqqa received the heaviest concentration of initial airstrikes.  In our social media-driven reality, one Syrian man tweeted about the initial attacks live as they happened.

Though there are several reasons for the US finally getting itself involved on the fringe of the long-running Civil War in Syria (which I have followed for some time now), the most immediate reason was the public beheadings of several US and western citizens by ISIS.  The highest profile of these were of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.  After these bloody executions the Obama war machine went into action.

Obama's original intent was stated to be very "limited" military action.  But now, much to the dismay of many liberals, this has expanded beyond that.  The primary reason for the expansion of airstrike activity is the rather obvious fact that the US underestimated the strength and vitality of ISIS from the beginning.

Our attacks in Syria began with the use of cruise missiles, mostly concentrated on specific communications targets in Raqqa.  F-15 Eagle's fill a prominent role in Iraq and Syria. Despite many advances in military technology, these jets from the early 1970's remain America's primary and most-reliable aerial weapon system.

But the real military news was the appearance of the F-22 Raptor for the first time ever.  This controversial $67 billion weapon system was designed as a stealth fighter for combat against advanced radar systems such as those possessed by Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.  So, it was rather ironic that the sophisticated F-22 made its debut in a low-tech situation against an enemy that had no radar capability whatsoever.  But, if you build a weapon system, sooner or later it will get used regardless of the actual relevance of its deployment.

Shortly after the US began operations against ISIS in Iraq the French decided they would join in to get some target practice. Britain, Belgium, and Denmark also committed resources to the campaign, again limiting their participation to Iraq only. This would allow the US to more fully concentrate on targets in Syria. Airstrikes in Iraq were still vital as ISIS remained a powerful threat to the hapless Iraqi army. Likewise, Baghdad remained legitimately threatened.

But for the US, going it alone in the air over Syria, degrading the infrastructure for ISIS was the primary target.  If you kill the capacity for a fighting force to communicate and to supply itself then that force will eventually have to cease or curtail operations. Unfortunately, after weeks of strikes, ISIS remained on the offensive as a highly-organized force.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the ISIS military offensive to take Kobani (also spelled Kobane), a Syrian town on the border with Turkey. Over 160,000 Syrian Kurds fled the city early on, seeking safety inside Turkey as ISIS forces draw ever-closer to capturing the town. Soon, ISIS controlled over 300 villages in and around Kobani, but many of these were deserted, the civilians having fled.

Sensing a humanitarian as well as military debacle at Kobani, over 200 Turkish intellectuals pleaded for western military intervention in late-September.  Turkey militarized its side of the border which abuts Kobani and promised to do "whatever it can" to prevent the fall of the city to ISIS. But in reality Turkey did very little and closed its border to Turkish Kurds wishing to join their Syrian counterparts defending the city. Rioting was widespread among Kurds in Turkey. Still, Turkey had several reasons for not stepping into Syria, among them was that they did not wish to strengthen the Kurds - considered terrorists inside their own country.

As September ended, the US began to beef up airstrikes around Kobani in an attempt to slow ISIS and assist the Kurdish resistance in the town.  The effectiveness of these strikes were almost immediately questioned.  In retaliation for this intensified bombing, ISIS began to indiscriminately shell populated areas inside the city. ISIS was now ironically supplied with US-made mortars, tanks, and other equipment captured from Iraqi bases that fell to them in their initial drive toward Baghdad in August.  All the Kurds had were small arms and a few automatic weapons.

As airstrikes continued over the next couple of weeks ISIS inched forward from three-sides of Kobani.  Only the rear area of the city facing the Turkish border remained open.  On October 3, ISIS defiantly beheaded an British journalist for Britan's decision to join in the air campaign in Iraq. On October 5, ISIS entered one corner of Kobani and began fighting resisters street to street.

Despite some signs that US airstrikes might be destabilizing the ISIS offensive, it was feared that the city would soon fall and that a terrible slaughter would then ensue. An intermittent live webcam of fighting in Kobani was available for a few days. By October 9, after four days of urban fighting, about 1/3 of the city was under ISIS control.

At this point, US military officials stated that airstrikes alone were unlikely to save Kobani.  Yet on October 12, the Kurds reported that they had "halted" the ISIS advance; more likely, ISIS merely paused and reorganized due to the airstrikes. Reinforcements were brought up and assimilated before the assault could continue.  Despite all this, hundreds of civilians remained "trapped" in Kobani even though the number who fled now reached about 200,000.

Meanwhile, Turkey seemed to placate the west with a promise to open a few of its air bases for western aircraft seeking to strike against ISIS targets.  The US did some posturing of its own when Secretary of State Kerry contended that the fate of Kobani was not an important factor in the overall US strategy against the Islamic State.  Nevertheless, an ISIS victory at Kobani would be a symbolic blow to Obama's air-only campaign strategy.

Back in Iraq, Baghdad was still threatened.  The US dispatched Apache helicopters to drive back an ISIS breakthrough of Iraqi army lines. The jihadist fighters got within a few miles of the international airport.  Top US military officials expected ISIS to intensify its actions against the Iraqi capital city. Kobani may be getting the headlines but Baghdad remained the most important Islamic State objective.

On October 13, fighting renewed in Kobani. Reports emerged of further savagery by ISIS within the city in the form of headless corpses and survivors with their eyes cut out. Many women were fighting among the Kurdish forces. One was used as a suicide bomber against ISIS - terrorist tactics were increasingly used by both sides. From the beginning of the battle, women played a key role in the Kurdish resistance at Kobani.

In another indication of the ineptness of President Obama's foreign policy team, Turkey said reports of it allowing the US to use some of its bases were untrue.  It seems the US, anxious to build a perception that it was not going it alone in Syria, anxious to build a "coalition," once more misunderstood the intent of a foreign power.

The situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate in Anbar Province where more than 180,000 people reportedly fled. Islamic State fighters captured the city of Heet as well as several Iraq army bases.  The Iraqis seem incapable of resisting ISIS to the same degree as the Kurds. Much of this was due to the divisive nature of Iraqi society itself, where Shia militias attack Sunni civilians. In either case, the air campaign rolled on with obviously questionable effectiveness.

On October 14, ISIS reached a portion of the center of Kobani, driving the hard-pressed Kurdish fighters to the half of the city nearest the Turkish border.  This was while the Turks were conducting airstrikes of their own against Kurdish terrorists inside their country, underscoring the hesitation on the part of Turkey to assist the Kurds in Kobani. 

As ISIS approached the center of Kobani the US stepped-up its airstrikes, bombing in and around the city 21 times on the 14th, the largest number of strikes in a single day yet.  Many of these strikes hit ISIS reinforcements.  This allowed the Kurds to retake a hill overlooking the city.  But, the US military, analyzing the overall situation, said the "tactical momentum" was still in favor of ISIS.

The beheadings and other atrocities were always a fear-mongering propaganda mechanism for ISIS. Soon this shifted gears and the militant group began bragging about enslaving women and children. This reflected a complete lack of understanding in their part as how such happenings were viewed in the US.  More Americans started to believe that it was necessary to put "boots on the ground" to deal with the aggressive Islamic State.

The Pentagon officially named the campaign in Syria-Iraq on October 15.  Inherent Resolve sounds more like a floor cleaner than a military operation, but whatever. Officials also reported that the US strikes at Kobani had killed "hundreds" of ISIS fighters.  The Telegraph provided an excellent map showing how much area the Islamic Sate controls in Syria and Iraq along with territories controlled by the other warring factions in these countries. Newsweek published a cover story about how the Kurds inside Kobani were dealing with the hardships of resisting ISIS aggression.

October 16:  For the first time, it was reported in both the liberal and the conservative press that the momentum may have shifted for now.  The Kurds were now "driving" ISIS away.  At one point the Kurds possessed only about 40% of the city but now they controlled about 70%, pushing ISIS fighters back to the city's southern and western portions.

Kobani may still fall to ISIS but one disadvantage to the Islamic State fighters is that they present a very concentrated target for heavy air strikes.  In September, I was reading reports of 5-6 strikes per day.  But in the past four days the reports were consistently around 14 strikes per day or more. The US drastically increased the bombing of Kobani. 

Apparently, about 2,000 civilians remained in the city. This meant most of the initial US airstrikes could not drop their bombs for fear of killing civilians.  But now, with live satellite images day and night and possibly through coordination with Kurds on the ground, the US could see precisely where and when ISIS fighters came out and concentrated for an attack on the Kurdish fighters (also known as the YPG). Likely, within a few minutes these spots were hit with US airstrikes.  ISIS has no radar nor anti-aircraft capability.  They could not know these strikes were coming until they heard them - always too late.  So, by concentrating for attack, ISIS was in effect killing itself the rain of fire.

Another way the airstrikes affected the battle of Kobani was, after so long, they were finally degrading the ability for ISIS to get ammunition inside the city.  No bullets, no attacks. Logistical interdiction and direct killing was the essence of the apparent "momentum" change. Kobani is probably the most bombed urban area on the planet right now. It takes its place prominently among the Earth's many little wars.

An excellent summary of the strategic situation and Kobani was reported by the BBC here.  Besides the concentrated killing of ISIS fighters, BBC analysis states that Kobani has become an invaluable propaganda symbol for both the US and the Islamic State.  For that reason, it is preventing thousands of ISIS troops from concentrating on the real prize of Baghdad.  Kobani is an effective diversionary enterprise, possibly allowing the pitiful Iraqi army to get better prepared.

All of these factors put together create a curious possibility. It is rare for air power alone to force the outcome of a military situation.  It always requires "boots on the ground." That was true as recently as with the French in Mali last year. I suppose you could argue that the rag-tag Kurds inside Kobani are boots on the ground.  But I think that is stretching it.  If Kobani is saved, as of right now, it looks like it will be saved by US airstrikes (53 in the first four days of intensified strikes) that so many called so "ineffective" to start with.

Even though the top US commander in the region believed, more likely than not, Kobani will fall to ISIS, he nevertheless stated: "The bombing campaign has changed the way ISIL communicates and fights. Airstrikes have destroyed Humvees, tanks and communication gear. ISIL fighters are now 'afraid to talk on their networks' and to gather for fear of being attacked. They no longer travel in large convoys."

Yesterday, in renewed heavy fighting, ISIS fired about 48 mortar rounds into Kobani. Some errant fire landed in Turkey.   Still, their original use of concentrated attacks against the Kurds are now seen as strategic blunders. Simultaneously, the morale of the YPG is greatly bolstered by the effect of US airstrikes. Apparently, a recent strike killed about 30 major ISIS commanders and their staff as they huddled for a planning session in one Kobani building. Think about how quickly US fire power reacted to that surveillance information.

But success stories like that are rare.  Overall, the bombing of Kobani has forced ISIS to reconsider its approach.  That does not mean it cannot adapt. Indeed, most US military commanders think they will adapt.  This likely means dispersal of their troops so bombings are less deadly.  It also means that their primary means for taking the city now is through infiltration tactics, not street to street fighting. 

The recent YPG morale boost is contrasted with a feeling of abandonment as recently as five days ago. Indeed, one of the issues facing the YPG is that they can draw on no reinforcements and have very limited food and ammunition. Retaking parts of Kobani lost to ISIS will mean little without supplies and more "boots on the ground."  In Iraq the US is assisting with air drops of supplies.  But in Syria, apparently only the Iraqi Kurds can be counted upon for supply and even that has not arrived so far.  

Meanwhile fighting continues in Iraq's Anbar Province.  The Iraq army continues its poor performance against the high-motivated invaders of the Islamic State.  ISIS is now more dispersed under the threat of airstrikes.  But, they still manage to assemble in smaller groups.  Mortar fire sporadically hits Shia areas of the capital city as car bombs kill dozens.

Part of what makes the Islamic State such a major strategic threat is that it is receiving millions of dollars a week from several oil refineries that were captured from the Syrian government. This is in addition to revenue from its organized crime networks in the region. As recently as yesterday, the US was still bombing these refineries to shut off ISIS "national" income.

Washington is now talking directly with the YPG, which is tricky as they are associated with the PKK, which are terrorists in Turkey. Such is the twisted nature of diplomacy and warfare in the middle east. Nevertheless, in the battle for Kobani, improved communications with the resisters along with extremely accurate US airstrikes seems to have shifted the winds of war. Of course, no one can predict which way the winds will blow next.  

Late Note:  The US began to airdrop weapons and supplies to the YPG resisters the day following this post.  Meanwhile, Turkey has reversed its position and will allow some Kurds to reinforce Kobani through its borders. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ole Miss and Mississippi State are Number 3

Tearing down the goalpost at Ole Miss last Saturday.  The post was then carried by fans out of the stadium.
Entering college football play today, the teams from Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi are tied in the national college rankings for #3.  That is rather remarkable (great piece in The New York Times about it here).  Both teams are featured on the latest cover of Sports Illustrated.  I am by no means an expert on college football history, but I bet it is a rare thing for two teams from the same state be tied at such a high ranking.  If the national championship playoffs were held today the state of Mississippi would likely send half the teams.  Amazing.

Ole Miss Rebel fans covered the $75,000 in fines and associated costs (in just four hours) levied against the University for storming the field following their upset win last week over the famed Alabama Crimson Tide.  Earlier in the day though the Mississippi State Bulldogs impressively crushed the highly ranked Texas A&M Aggies. Both teams enter number three after defeating Top Ten ranked teams last week.

I understand the reason for the fine by the SEC. I guess tearing down the goalposts and carrying them out of the stadium and through the streets and into apartments can be seen as disruptive.  But I regret that we live in a time when such spontaneous, unruly, mass celebration is viewed as punishable.  A residual aspect of America's terrorized society?  Could be.  Unruly crowds are scary.  Better to keep a tighter grip on the people.  Political correctness and all.  

But I digress...  

The Mississippi State Bulldogs took care of business at home today by solidly beating the #2 ranked Auburn Tigers 38-23 in an early match-up of Top Four teams.  This is the third Top Ten team the Bulldogs have beaten so far this year.  A true sign of a strong football team.

Texas A&M received the privilege to play these two hot and powerful Mississippi teams back-to-back today, hosting Ole Miss.  The Rebels really dominated the #14 ranked Aggies in a 35-20 victory. 

Both Mississippi teams remain undefeated.  Both manhandled highly ranked teams.  #2 Auburn lost, of course. So it begs the question will the Bulldogs and the Rebels remain tied and move up to the #2 spot together?  Now wouldn't that be something? 

Some feel at least one of these teams deserves to leap over #1 Florida State.  Could they both move to #1 together?  That's not likely. Right now, on paper, it seems the Bulldogs have the edge for any leapfrogging, given they have beaten three Top Ten teams.  I don't recall a football story quite like this one in my lifetime. I would say it surpasses the historic Kick Bama Kick rivalry between Auburn and Alabama last year. There is no football like SEC football.

Late Note:  Mississippi State did leap over Florida State for the #1 national ranking.  Ole Miss remained at #3.

Very Late Note: Two weeks later the SEC became the first college football league in history of have 4 teams ranked in the Top Five.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Discovering The xx

Proof of purchase.  The first two CDs by The xx along with some MP3s not available on the CDs that I downloaded from amazon. The minimalist style of the band is reflected in the packaging of their CDs.  Both have a X die-cut into the cover with an opposite color booklet of photos and lyrics pushed into the sleeve.  The booklets contain only lyrics and song titles and the words "Thank You" at the bottom of each back.  There are no song writing credits, production credits, no copyright information, nor are the members of the band even mentioned.  No one gets any credit for anything - just lyrics and titles and some artsy photos.  I don't recall seeing such detail in intended ambiguity like this before. 
Jennifer and I were talking about the film The Great Gatsby a couple of weeks ago.  We had both seen the Robert Redford version but wanted to see the 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio version.  I was checking Netflix but it only had the older version, which I honestly wouldn't mind seeing again, but I was in the mood for DiCaprio.  I think DiCaprio might the most under decorated actor of our time. He has delivered a number of great performances.

Anyway, when researching the new version I noticed the soundtrack was weird.  It was not a period soundtrack.  It was full of hip hop, alt rock, and other postmodern styles.  Jay Z and Jack White were on there.  For a 1920's period film.  In reviewing the musical selections I saw a song called "Together" by The xx.  I played it on my stereo off my iPad through my big stereo system.  It was a wonderful surprise.

The xx is an indie rock, techno, new age, minimalist band. According to the wiki article on them they are classified in the musical genre known as "dream pop", which is a new genre for me.  To the ear they perform songs of angst and uncertainty and love and desire, a perfect tune mix for the 20-something and under zeitgeist.  The band has three members and they do not try to sound like anything more than a trio.  The in-studio effects and overdubs are kept to a minimum compared with most bands.

Their sonic range is also somewhat restricted.  Not in a bad way.  You can comfortably crank up their music and not worry about being blow away by a sudden torrid guitar solo or screaming vocals. These moments do not exist.  By no means do I wish to imply The xx is flat or boring or routine. Far from it.  Each song is unique and extremely interesting to listen to (at times sounding techno, at times space music, at times just introverted indie rock).  They simply have a style that will not blow out your receiver.  Their force is a subtle sophisticated articulation that does not require acute modulation.

The xx lyrics are often stark.  They are steeped in flip, confident, and cynical late-teen and early adulthood attitude. They are deeply intimate, sometimes doubting, sometimes willing to take a chance, always prepared to deal with whatever arises through understanding and association and even fearlessness in the face of vague hopes, ill-defined goals, and a undercurrent of rage and passion.  These strong lyrics combine with the sturdy steady minimalist rock to create a very satisfying musical experience that can serve equally as conversational party music or as the basis for a sensuous make-out session.

The band formed in 2005 when long-time friends Oliver Sim (bass, vocals) and Romy Madley Croft (guitar, vocals) teamed with guitarist Baria Qureshi.  In 2006, Jamie Smith joined as a percussionist.  Qureshi lasted into the group's debut album in 2009 but was basically kicked out of the band by the other members during the tour following the album's release. Apparently, there were some tensions and differences of opinion about the music and the band's direction.  The xx has continued as a trio ever since.

xx (2009) was a critically acclaimed record (it is currently 74 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest debut albums of all time) and was a cultish hit among concert goers.  The band was soon headlining their own shows and generated quite a following.  The band won the Mercury Prize in 2010.  Their second album, Coexist, was released in 2012 to continued high praise and growing popularity.  In addition to the standard album mixes, Jamie Smith has mixed several extended versions of their songs for dance club settings. (These are available on separate MP3 downloads at places like amazon.) Whereas most songs by The xx are brief 3-4 minutes in length, these club mixes go as long as 8-12 minutes and feature more robust mixing and instrumentation than is typically heard on the band's first two albums.  A third album is supposedly in the works now.

Jennifer and I have been captivated by the band's music ever since I bought the two CDs and their associated MP3s.  I have listened more intensely than Jennifer to each album several times.  There are simply no weak moments on either of them. Every song is really excellent, reflecting high-quality talent in songwriting and performing by Croft and Sim.  On the first album they tended to write separately but they wrote more as a duo on the second album, indicating a unity and an evolution in their artistic maturation.

As we listened to this music over the past few weeks Jennifer often piped in with "Wow, that's a great song" and "I like this song" and "This is a really good song."  To which I always replied "They are all good songs.  There are no bad The xx songs." And this is true.  Be that as it may, for the purposes of this post, I do have some favorites, beginning with the first record...

"Intro" is an instrumental track that sounds very familiar. This seems to be a favorite among fans. There is a four-hour edit of this available on youtube if you care to get totally neurotic with this catchy little tune.  "VCR" is a semi-hit song that features some really nice vocals.  My favorite tune from the first album is "Crystallized."  It sounds tough and edgy and has a nice beat.  "Islands" (nice video) is another strong song that reminds me a bit of early material by The Police. "Heart Skipped A Beat" is a very good tune with some excellent synthesized moments.  My second favorite tune is probably "Shelter" which starts slow but builds to a biting ballad about the age-old rock theme of getting back together following a break up.  The subject is kind of cliché but the actual delivery of it is fresh and vibrant, one of the band's strongest songs.

Coexist is not as strong an album overall as the debut effort but that is not too big a swipe at it. The band's second record is still solid and worthy of repeat hearings.  For me the highlights include "Angels" a tune that drew a lot of new fans into the fold.  Great lyrics on this one. "Chained" has a great rhythm and blues feel to it that talks about how even the closest relationships can change.  "Fiction" builds into a nice simple dance piece. "Swept Away" shows once more how the Croft-Sim vocal duo is something special. There are times when Sim sounds a bit like John Mayer in his delivery, though intentionally without Mayer's range.  The song evolves into a catchy dance beat that is very appealing. 

The xx is a grand discovery and Jennifer and I are eager to hear their next album whenever it becomes available.  It may seem somewhat odd that two 50-somethings connect so well with music that geared more toward 20-somethings just out of college and looking fresh at life.  But, for me, that is precisely what I connect with.  Despite all the angst and undercurrents of unfulfilled longing, this music inspires me. It makes me feel young again when I listen to it.  I feel their pain, their doubt, and most importantly their striving and yearning and hope. It is all there in their highly accessible music and it gives me reason to want more, just as the trio of Croft-Sim-Smith so obviously want to deliver more here at the start of their careers.

Very Late Note:  The xx played at a gala affair sponsored by Christian Dior at the prestigious Guggenheim Museum last week.  Not many musicians get this type of exposure and it shows what a stylish and elite band they are becoming.  A rising force in artsy music.