Friday, December 29, 2006

Why Something's Gotta Give Is A Piece Of Shit

A friend of mine just reminded me about what is likely my least favorite film of all-time: Nancy Meyers' insulting, stereotype-laden and (worst of all) internally-inconsistent Something's Gotta Give.

What a piece of shit.  It's been a couple years, but its taste is still rancid on my tongue, as if recalling a mouthful of month-old compost (without leaves).  Rarely is a movie about relationships so eye-bleedingly implausible and imbecilic.  I never hate movies as much as I hate this one.  It takes a special film to make me react this violently, and it earns every F-bomb I hurl its way.

Why, you ask?

  1. The failed aspirations.  It tries to be a tale of fuck-ups finding each other (a la As Good As It Gets), focusing on the woeful tale of the middle-aged, unmarried female.  It fails so spectacularly to say anything, other than "it sucks to be middle-aged," and even that came across loud and clear without me having to sit through 2+ hours of crap.
  2. Entirely implausible characters.  Your romantic leads are a music executive and a writer.  Your objects of desire are a young doctor who's into older men, and a young woman so disposable that I can't even remember what her deal is.  Who cares?!?  They can all go fuck themselves.
  3. The writer/director's utter contempt for the male gender.  This is obvious to anyone within the first thirty seconds of film, and the rest of the film shows little in the way of sympathy towards any of her male characters except for Keanu Reeves' doctor, who is so vapid in his lust for Diane Keaton that to reward his character with virtue is an insult to anyone who scores higher than 12 on an IQ test.
  4. The judgmental, condescending gender lecture.  Listen, lady... Keaton is the biggest schmuck in your movie, and you chose her to be your voice of reason?  She fucked herself up, and fucked Jack Nicholson over for no good reason.  She is unqualified to teach me how to sort my fucking sock drawer, let alone the vagaries of mature relationships.  I will not accept any film with such a nudnik as its emotional center.
  5. The ending.  One of the worst, most asinine endings in the history of Hollywood endings.  The situation arises stupidly, extends itself even more stupidly, and resolves itself in the most fantastically implausible manner that it renders the entire film a total fucking waste of everyone's time.  Why bother with two hours of Nicholson's character being stubborn if you're gonna have him miraculously learn all his lessons over the span of a minute and a half?  Need I even mention that Keaton's character didn't learn ANYTHING in the process?  Oh, I forgot, she's a woman, so she's perfect, and God forbid I say otherwise.
  6. Worst of all, the fact that it masquerades as an incisive dramedy, deigning to speak to real-world issues, when in fact it's nothing more than a scattered, imbalanced smorgasbord of mean-spirited complaints about men.

But despite my best efforts to deny it any educational success whatsoever, Something's Gotta Give did teach me what it's like for women to watch male-oriented films.  It would be very easy for me to reach that conclusion based on surface elements, such as the contempt, the condescension, and the schoolmarm tone towards all men.  But I actually believe this to be true based on a clever trick in its story structure: it follows the rules of a guy movie, but with the gender roles reversed.

  1. It's the women who are forgiven for all their flaws, foibles, and generally idiotic behavior (Keaton).
  2. It's the men who are one-dimensional, unpredictable and inconsistent in their characters (Nicholson), if they're so lucky to have more character than a piece of ass (Keanu).
  3. The man is judged to be at fault when the third-act conflict is resolved.  The man comes to the woman in the end, not the other way around. 

What's more is that women don't even notice.  It's the reverse of what women must think while watching the romantic arc of your average guy movie (Dodgeball, Super Troopers) unfold.  Kate and her friend, with whom I watched this piece of shit, just thought it was another innocuous, cheesy girl movie.  They saw none of the condescension and such that I'd just endured.  Same movie, totally different reactions.  Of course, when Kate and another friend reacted violently to Sideways' depiction of jerkiness-as-male-bonding, it was the same story in reverse... they were livid, and I thought "huh?"

So I've decided, after some thought, and in spite of some very basic story/character problems in the screenplay, that the film at least makes a point.  Too bad that the point is made in the same manner as a dog owner correcting his/her dog's piss-puddle in the living room... rubbing our noses in it.  It says something about the quality of the filmmaker as a person, and goes a long way towards explaining why the movie as a whole is such a failure.  Anyone who's watched Michael Moore over the past three years can tell you that being completely fucking wrong in the opposite direction is not the solution to the world's problems, just as Something's Gotta Give does nothing for gender equity.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays

In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share my favorite Dick in a Box link thus far, from kottke.org, summarizing the high point of the video.  Verrr niiiiiiiiiiice.  The bottom of the post links to several tribute videos, which I presume are also entertaining.  Sure, I may not have clicked on the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head version yet, seeing as I'm at work, but I can't believe that won't be worth a look.

Honorable mention goes to Wikipedia, but only because the header of the article reads "SNL Digital Shorts (redirected from Dick in a Box)", which I find perversely entertaining.

Dishonorable mention goes to Busted Tees, if only because a t-shirt was the natural next step in the cultural progression.  The fact that they're already back-ordered by two weeks, when the video hasn't even existed for one week, troubles me.  Is that what happens to our nation's inside jokes?  We pummel them to death inside of a week because we're racing each other to see who make money off of it before everyone else?  This country is crazier than a dick in a box.


Annotated Rubies

Dan Bejar, full-time Destroyer mastermind and part-time New Pornographer, writes songs tailor-made for wiki-based documentation.  He deals in turns of phrase and clever quotes more than overt themes and stories; as such, nobody in the known universe has any friggin idea what's going on in any of his songs (including Bejar, I'd imagine).  Still, some of us would like to find some degree of meaning in the lyrics, whatever degree actually exists.  In brief, I'm intrigued by his ideas, and would like to subscribe to his newsletter.

Luckily, there's the fan-maintained Destroyer wiki: almost every noteworthy reference, explained, catalogued, and summarized.  I haven't gone much further than the Destroyer's Rubies section, but I found it entertaining enough.  And the notion of a Bejar wiki is kinda funny in and of itself... he's so obtuse, we need a web-based non-linear documentation platform just to keep track of what the hell he's on about.  As someone who gets the joke, I thought it was fun.

(Fun aside: the link comes courtesy of Marathonpacks' excellent year-end list.  The author gets huge props for the following line, during his review of Danielson's Ships:

"The thing that sucked about Illinoise... was that, for all of his innocent, construction-paper pretensions, I still got the feeling that Sufjan just wanted to fuck my girlfriend."

Hehe.  Yeah, I bet Suf's quite the tomcat.  "Well, sure,
all things go, all things go... but all things come too.  The power of Christ compels you!!!")

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Favorite Songs of 2006

Realized I ought to do one of these too.  Heed the usual wishy-washy claims, wherein I'm merely summarizing what works for me, totally subjective level, blah blah blah.

Also worth noting is that I don't listen to radio.  KEXP once in a while, but that's it.  Point being that I'm not getting music outside of an album context, so I don't really get into single songs without grabbing the album too.  So this list may look strikingly similar to yesterday's.

Without further ado:

Top 10
10. The Rapture - Whoo! Alright - Yeah... Uh-Huh
9. Robert Randolph & The Family Band - Ain't Nothing Wrong With That
8. Neko Case - Star Witness
7. Thom Yorke - Black Swan
6. Midlake - Roscoe
5. The Decemberists - The Island
4. Hot Chip - Boy From School
3. Belle & Sebastian - Another Sunny Day
2. TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me
1. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy

Next 10, In Alphabetical Order
Basement Jaxx - Hey You
Ben Harper - Morning Yearning
Calexico - Yours and Mine
Elbow - Forget Myself
The Flaming Lips - Free Radicals
Ben Folds - Bruised
The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations
OutKast - Morris Brown
The Raconteurs - Steady As She Goes
Sufjan Stevens - Adlai

And Just Because I Want To
Andy Samberg & Justin Timberlake - Dick In A Box (arguably NSFW)
Spank Rock - Lindsay Lohan's Revenge (definitely NSFW)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Favorite Albums of 2006

Everyone else does it, so I'm doing it too.  I haven't listened to every album out there, so I won't pretend that these are the best albums.  Besides, there's plenty of candidates out there that are "better" than lots of the ones I picked (Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings The Flood comes to mind) but which just aren't my style.  And then there's all that subjective horseshit that comes into play when you talk about "best."  So I've instead assembled my ten favorite albums of the year.  Those come later.

First, I make no bones about saying what the worst albums of the year are.

Worst Album Of The Year
Grizzly Bear - Yellow House
No contest.  After several tries, I remain entirely confused by Yellow House's critical success.  It's a boring, meandering, unremarkable turd.  Even their idea (beautiful lo-fi pop) is a piece of shit, never mind the fact that they failed to execute it.  Since when did Beach Boys harmonies become the indie scene's top priority?  This band sucks.

Put it this way.  Car trouble caused them to miss a gig here in DC. opening for TVOTR, back in October.  Their absence on that night ranks as one of the luckiest things that happened to me all year.

Album Diss Jeff Is Most Likely To Regret
Joanna Newsom - Ys
What a uniformly frustrating album.  I don't have as much rancor for this as I do for Grizzly Bear, but the people going nuts about it are way, way off-base.  Again, when did the lo-fi crowd become experts on "beautiful" music?  Of course it's beautiful next to the four-track crap you listen to all day.  Take away that phony-baloney faux-Bjork affectation, and she's chamber music.  And if I read one more review praising Van Dyke Parks and his pointless, distracting, non sequitur string arrangements, I'm going to buy a cello just so I can smack him in the chops with it.

At the same time, it's not an ineffective album.  I get why her music affects people.  And I appreciate the talent on display.  She's got this magical, "Peter And The Wolf" thing going on... you can imagine yourself floating around in Narnia with talking rabbits and squirrels and shit.  It's more a matter of whether I feel I'm missing out on something.  Which I don't.  She may slap together something praiseworthy later on.  This isn't it.

Dishonorable Mention
Jurassic 5 - Feedback
I got your feedback right here: Cut Chemist was your sound.  His skills allowed us to forgive your corny rhymes.  If you can't get him back, spare us the derivative Black Eyed Peas crap.  Depressing.

Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Because Even Though I Pretend Not To Care What You Think, Really I Do, Because I'm A Complete Fucking Douchebag Who's Manipulating The Grass-Roots Publicity System To His Advantage Instead Of Making Music Good Enough To Speak For Itself
These guys are fuckin' fakes.  Except their drummer.  That guy's a fucking demon.  I'll grant them that.

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead - So Divided
...And you will know them by the trail of stupid horn and string arrangements.  I have no idea what the point of this album is.  It's neither as ingenious as Source Tags & Codes nor as mainstream-fabulous as the unfairly savaged Worlds Apart.  And it rocks a lot less than either of them.  There's good stuff here and there, but why bother?  If I want piano rock, I'll listen to Ben Folds' scattershot Supersunnyspeedgraphic for a few minutes, not your heavy ode to whatever indignant shit just upset you.  It's a shame that Pitchfork chose to hatchet Worlds Apart when they could have torn So Divided a new one instead.

Top Five Disappointing Follow-Ups That Are Merely OK
None of these are bad albums, but they are notable turns for the worse.

1. The Streets
- The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living
It's not that bad, but he makes the dip to irrelevance with this.  His whole thing is that he's gritty and evocative!  This is just a bunch of whining.

2. Snow Patrol - Eyes Open
I've made my feelings abundantly clear on this.

3. OutKast - Idlewild
They get a mulligan for this, since it's not supposed to be a proper album, and they were clearly focusing on the movie more than the songs.  But lackluster nonetheless, with the blazing exception of "Morris Brown."  God-damn.

4. Guster - Ganging Up On The Sun
Keep It Together is one of my desert-island albums.  This has none of the bounce, and little of the charm.  Not worthwhile.

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Stadium Arcadium
So instead of just giving us one carbon copy of By The Way, they gave us two carbon copies at once?  They could have saved the second disc for 2010 and called it San Francisco Disco or something. 

Partial Credit
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
Great stuff.  They're not a "special" band, nor are any of them individually that brilliant.  But they make a nice sound, and Van Occupanther is a mellow, pleasant, and highly likable album.  That said, the excellent lead track "Roscoe" elevates the rest of the album to relevance.  Without "Roscoe," I doubt the rest of the album would be noteworthy.  Still, I really like it.

Thom Yorke - The Eraser
"Black Swan" is one of my favorite tunes of the year.  If it were more radio-friendly (its chorus doesn't just contain an F-bomb, it balances upon it) it could have made a significant impact on above-ground pop.  But that's more a problem with the radio scene than the song.  The rest of this loop-fest of a solo project I can do without.  All the songs are pretty much the same format, with eight misses surrounding the lone hit.  At the very least, Yorke gets props for not subjecting us to any of this for the upcoming Radiohead album.  But for my money, "Black Swan" is indispensable on its own.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - Colorblind
I'm no fan of the blues or gospel, but RRFB is one of those cases where a musician's genius transcends his genre (or genres).  The songs are little more than constructs for showcasing his singular musical ability with the Sacred Steel, but this is a group whose collective talent renders the songwriting process unnecessary.  Give them a riff, and they will burn it into the ground.  On Colorblind's up-tempo numbers, specifically "Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That" and "Deliver Me," the band comes as close as possible to reproducing their legendary live energy (and irrepressible joy) in the studio.  Unfortunately, the studio albums also subject us to a series of disposable, cookie-cutter ballads that have more in common with The Jets (or, less flatteringly, Franklin Comes Alive!) than Robert Johnson.  It's their prerogative, but I think they'd do well to stop wasting their massive talent on that garbage.

Ben Folds - Supersunnyspeedgraphic
Re-worked versions of songs from the EPs he threw together from 2003-04.  More a collection of songs than an album.  I give partial credit because the best songs were in pretty good shape as they were, making this LP kind of unnecessary.  But I still like a lot of it.  And I like it better than Songs for Silverman.

Honorable Mention
Spank Rock - YoYoYoYoYo
Speaking of penetration (hey-ooo)... the ass-and-boobs obsession on display here is equally awe-inspiring.  He makes 2 Live Crew look like a bunch of whiny Morrissey-style asexuals.  And the beats are as filthy figuratively as the lyrics are filthy literally; you're immediately transported into a car full of people driving home from the club at 4 AM.  Unfortunately, I can't discuss this album without using a lot of "buts."  Spank is a compelling MC, and pretty talented... but he trips over that fine line between "ribald" and "perverted" a bit too often for my taste.  I enjoy listening to it... but I feel like I need a shower and a shot of Pepto afterwards.  It's a fun album... but how can I love an album that I'm ashamed to listen to in public?  You get the idea.  I think he should call his next album "NSFW," just so everyone's clear.

LCD Soundsystem - 45:33
This Nike-commissioned 46-minute concept track is further evidence that James Murphy is better suited to long-form tracks, like 45:33 and "Beat Connection," than the shorter efforts such as those found on the self-titled LP from last year.  He can fill an extended track to the brim with ideas and variations, such that it avoids monotony and entertains from start to finish; in that sense, short tracks don't really allow him to do what he does best.  The upcoming Sound of Silver, a collection of longer tracks that will certainly appear on any list I make next year, supports this theory.  But in the meantime, 45:33 is pretty sweet.

Elbow - Leaders Of The Free World
I really liked this album.  They've caught some flak for emulating Coldplay, but I think Elbow's rollicking take on the sound is much more fun.  The title track, lead track "Station Approach," and best track "Forget Myself" are brilliant.

10 Favorite Albums Of 2006
10. Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies
Rubies is catchy and appealing in an ADD kind of way.  But the ADD thing prevents it from affecting me much... it's enough of an achievement just to keep up with Dan Bejar, let alone connect with him.  Still, there's plenty to like, even if it's not all that penetrating.  And I do have to stand in awe of Bejar's maniacal poetry.

9. The Rapture - Pieces of the People We Love
They're the disco version of !!!... less funk and techno, more high-hats and cowbell.  "Whoo, Alright..." is an amazing song.  If there's a weakness to this album, it's that their sound feels very small and unassuming, despite the boisterousness of the songs themselves. Another case of "if they ever manage to capture their live presence in the studio..." syndrome.  But Pieces is still a fun listen.

8. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
Most underrated album of the year.  It's not as mind-blowing as Yoshimi or The Soft Bulletin, maybe, but for all that those records are brilliant, they are equally inconsistent.  The Lips don't have to redefine themselves and their music every time out.  Mystics is no slouch.

7. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
The most relevant album of the year, and certainly the pop album that will identify 2006.  But it didn't have much staying power with me.  When I get my fill of candy, I usually don't want much more.  But anything that makes Cee-Lo Green a superstar is worthy of inclusion.

6. The Roots - Game Theory
Still at the top of their game, and still pumping out criminally underrated music.  Game Theory is the kind of focused effort that makes you wonder why it took them so long to figure out that 15-minute spoken-word soliloquies don't play so well with general audiences.  I listen to Game Theory and wonder what could have been, had Things Fall Apart or Phrenology been this tight.

5. Calexico - Garden Ruin
Another great, straight-ahead rock album.  This one, however, comes from a band that had previously been more interested in evoking Mexican mariachi music than rocking out.  That stuff is okay and all, but I'm glad they toned down the expansive multicultural thing this time around.  Garden Ruin is deep, mature, and rich... still clearly grounded in the Southwest, but without the ersatz bandito stuff.  It's an extension of what they accomplished with Iron & Wine last year on the excellent In The Reins EP.

4. The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
Between this album and Sam's Town, accusing bands of ripping off Springsteen has become the new vogue in music criticism.  It used to be "this guy thinks he's the new Dylan, but he's so not."  Now it's The Boss.  Please.  Since when is it a crime to follow in a tradition?  Bar rock is simple and derivative in its nature, but that simplicity is what makes it so much fun.  Besides, they get extra brownie points for being the first NYC band to buck the Joy Division/Interpol/Franz Ferdinand trend in indie pop.  And you know what?  Good for them.

3. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
TVOTR are as relevant and important as it gets.  The only valid comparison Cookie Mountain inspires in my mind is to Radiohead.  That's how big they are.  Tunde Adebimpe is a major vocal talent, and their sound is one of a kind.  Ultimately, though, I think they have better songs in them.  I eagerly await those songs, because they'll fucking blow everyone away.

2. Belle & Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
I only recently stopped listening to it on a regular basis; it came out in February.  It's absolutely brilliant stuff.  If something this good had come from an unknown band, one that hadn't released If You're Feeling Sinister and didn't have the "they're so different now" stigma attached to them, The Life Pursuit would have been a runaway success.  Instead, it carries the extra baggage of having to accept B&S for what it is... which I could give a shit about.  I, for one, welcome our new chamber-twee overlords.

1. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
I cannot, and have not, shut up about how much I love this album.  The songs are simple, but simple in a "making it look easy" kind of way.  I'm not hedging with this one... this is both my favorite and the best.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Borat Lands Golden Globe Nod, Travels To Iran

This is no shock, since the Globes are more concerned about reflecting celebrity than emphasizing their own dignity, but Sacha Baron Cohen got a Best Actor (Comedy/Musical) nod for Borat.  In a perfect world, he'd follow that up with an Oscar nod, if only because nobody has ever pulled off what he has.  It's possible, given how weak a year it appears to be for Best Actor.

That's not what got me to post, though.  This is.

STATEMENT FROM SACHA BARON COHEN
ON BEHALF OF RECEIVING TWO GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS FOR

BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN; FILM NOMINATED FOR BEST COMEDY OR MUSICAL; BARON COHEN NOMINATED FOR BEST ACTOR

“I am extremely honored. I’m very proud as well for my fellow writers as well as our director Larry Charles, and our producer Jay Roach, and am very thankful for the HFPA’s belief and acknowledgment of our film. I have been trying to let Borat know this great news but for the last 4 hours both of Kazakhstan’s telephones have been engaged. Eventually, Premier Nazarbayev answered and said he would pass on the message as soon as Borat returned from Iran, where he is guest of honor at the Holocaust Denial Conference.”

Excellent.  It's stuff like this, the stuff that happens when he's not on the job, that makes Cohen's work resonate even more.  By continuing the subversiveness in his free time, he cements Borat's place in reality all the more.  He'd lose the is-it-real-or-not power of the premise if he discussed his show and the movie like it's just his job, just show business, to say nothing of losing the cultural/sociological weight it carries.  And in turn, because his characters are so plausible, he's able to take his character and shove it into ridiculous real-life situations like the conference in Iran.  Brilliant.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gotcha, Bitch!

Most of this article is about the bait car program in northern Virginia.  Basically, the cops rig up commonly-stolen cars with hidden cameras and trackers, and nail anyone who drives off inside about four minutes.  Out of 73 activations, they've made 56 arrests, each of whom has pled guilty once they arrive in court due to the unmistakable video evidence.  Nothing special, just a good Metro section report.

Then this happens.

In one Loudoun incident that has become infamous among area police departments, a man stole a bait vehicle and was able to drive it from Leesburg to Southeast Washington because of technical difficulties. Police eventually got the suspect, minutes after the camera caught him smoking crack and masturbating. He had spent part of his ride urinating in a soda can, then drinking his urine to try to quell a case of the hiccups. He also vomited twice.

I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for this...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Jeff Loves Midlake



It's been a while since I listened to a new band and loved them instantly. I've been into a lot of growers lately, like TV On The Radio and Tapes 'n Tapes. So I am pleased to report that Midlake had me at hello. I heard lead track "Roscoe" on Gorilla vs. Bear. Loved it. I immediately went and grabbed The Trials of Van Occupanther. Loved it.

Van Occupanther is a throwback record, filled with mellow 70's-style AM pop. Soft piano, calmly pulsing bass lines, flute lines, and plenty of high hats. Nothing controversial, just a time-worn style. You can imagine pretty much any of these songs as the theme to some old sitcom about a wacky office. It's pure soft rock, in the spirit of Christine McVie's work in Fleetwood Mac, or the softer work of Elton John and Billy Joel.

(Hilariously, Van Occupanther is precisely the kind of music about which Joel famously said, "pardon my French, but lite rock sounds like soft cock." Yes, that's Billy "The Longest Time" Joel said that. Really. That's one of my favorite quotes ever. I'm thrilled that I found it online, and that my grandchildren will someday read it. Seriously. Try to imagine a recording of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin performing "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" in three-part harmony... with that, you're starting to approach the level of irony inflicted upon you by Billy Joel and his soft-cock quote. Almost.)

Aaaaaanyway, Midlake is pretty sweet. Is the album revolutionary? No. Is it cool? Decidedly not. But I'm a sucker for great piano pop, and that's what it is.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Movies In Brief-ish

CASINO ROYALE
I knew that the new Bond, Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, Munich) was going to do an amazing job; I was more worried about the movie itself.  Fortunately, it's the most natural, most real-feeling Bond film in quite a while.

Personally, I prefer the Bond movies that are grounded in some degree of plausibility.  It's more in the style of For Your Eyes Only, which had been the gritty, earthy response to the ridiculousness of Moonraker; likewise, Casino Royale is the response to the icebound satellite-laser madness of Die Another Day.  Even the wacky enemies like Oddjob or Jaws have at least some modicum of believability.  They're ridiculous, no doubt, but not so much that they inspire disbelief.  Lasers being shot out of the sky at a guy driving a BMW across a glacier, or even the notorious opening scene from GoldenEye where Bond defies gravity to catch up with his plane... those inspire nothing but disbelief.  There was only one moment in Casino Royale that required so much as a minor suspension of disbelief, and it really wasn't that big a deal.  Well done.

Anyway, I'm glad to see that Daniel Craig will be a household name after this film.  He's easily the most talented Bond yet, the most tailor-made for post-Bond stardom.

A SCANNER DARKLY
Love, love, love this movie.  Thoughtful, observant, cynical, subversive, anarchic, beautiful, unflinching, disturbing, and outrageously funny.  Just see it.  I imagine being high would augment your experience, though it might kinda run counter to the point of the film.

There's pluses and minuses to the animated look of the film.  This is definitely less of a "gimmick" movie than was Waking Life.  Whereas that was an experiment, this was an artistically necessary use of rotoscoping technology, given certain critical plot elements (the scramble suits, Freck's "bug infestation") that would have looked preposterous any other way.  The imagery that results from the rotoscope animation process is tough to connect with in any emotional way.  It kinda trivializes the story... disconnects the audience from it.  But in another way, the dreamlike quality of the animation is really unsettling, which is highly appropriate for a drug-paranoia/what-is-reality-anyway movie.  Also... and this is no small point... it's cool as hell.

Of special note is the ingenious performance of Robert Downey, Jr.  He was just classic, from beginning to end.  You are constitutionally incapable of not shutting the fuck up!!!

ONG-BAK
I was underwhelmed.  Not by the fighting, though... the fighting and stunts were jaw-dropping.  And Tony Jaa is the real deal.  He kicks some serious ass in this movie.

But everything else was just brutal.  Most martial arts movies have the decency to entertain you when the star isn't doing anything... this time, Totally devoid of any appeal.  The story might have filled a seven-minute Magilla Gorilla cartoon if you stretched out certain parts, and yet they made an 80-minute feature film.  It wasn't funny, the characters weren't even remotely memorable, and the story was totally pointless... even by martial arts standards.  It makes Home Alone look like Chinatown.

What hurts the most is that it's a matter of filmmaking competence.  The director and writer have none.  They set up a premise, and then just completely abandon it for like twenty or thirty minutes.  Nothing whatsoever happens on the premise front... just some fighting and chasing that has nothing to do with the premise.  And when I say the fighting is irrelevant, I mean by the standards of action movies... which means it's really irrelevant.  There is no way even the most brilliant philosopher could cobble together a connection between the fighting and the plot.  No matter how crappy the movie, you still have to make at least a nominal effort to fit the action to the story.  Ong-Bak has none.  Whoever made this movie has absolutely no idea how to tell a story.  Heck, given the instant-replay effect that was used on literally every stunt, I'm not even sure they know how to shoot action.

Basically, this movie's purpose was to put us on notice that Tony Jaa is coming to beat our faces into a bloody pulp, in better movies, in the years to come.  Fine by me.

TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY
I was worried that they wouldn't slap together enough material to make a whole movie.  I was wrong.  I had a great time and laughed my ass off.  They cut it awfully close, but they still made it, just by the skin of their scrotes.  It's right up there with High Fidelity and School of Rock as definitive Jack Black showcases.  JB had me at "A long-ass fuckin' time ago / In a town called Kickapoo," and I was with him all the way after that.  I'll spare you the anecdotes, since cult movies don't translate so well to "I liked the part where he ________."  The fact that I enjoyed myself immensely will have to suffice.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Live: Death Cab For Cutie

Death Cab For Cutie
with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
11/7/06 @ D.A.R. Constitution Hall

In Five Words
Hey, I remember these guys!

In More Words
Death Cab was a lot better than I expected. I've made no secret of my complaints about Plans on this here Interblog, but I kinda figured those songs would have more life in person. Indeed, they did.

It was an extremely consistent show. The songs themselves were played straight, with one exception (more on that later), so there's not a lot of "ooh, remember when they played X"-type moments to point to in retrospect. But the flip side of that coin is that there were no lowlights either. They have so much quality material in the arsenal that there's no shortage of excellent music for them to plow through. Judging by the set list for the 11/6 show, I tend to think that first show got more of the "interesting" pieces (like opening with "405"... ballsy, given the MTVU crowd). But I like ours... they did play personal favorite "I Was A Kaleidoscope," so I'm glad this was the show I got to see.

The crescendo was the main-set-closing one-two punch of "We Looked Like Giants" and "Transatlanticism." Closing the encore with "The Sound of Settling" seemed like an afterthought by comparison... it's their best song, but it's so short! And it really paled in comparison to "Giants" in particular, which contained what is apparently DCFC's lone stage trick: extending the closing riff with a Jason McGerr vs. Ben Gibbard drum duel on separate kits. It was like Horse... Gibbard would play something and McGerr immediately outdid it and then some. And it wasn't like "everyone stop what you're doing, cause I'm doing a drum solo," which literally any drummer can do. The song groove kept going, and the drum soloing had to hold the riff together. It was just straight-up skills from a highly-skilled band. Very impressive.

Ted Leo's set was just as excellent. That they were an afterthought on the evening is awfully unfair, but I really enjoyed hearing them live. Makes me want to see more of them when their new album drops next year.

But as great as the music was, this show was defined by the externalities that arise when you put a rock show in Constitution Hall.

1) First off, Con Hall is an execrable venue for this kind of show. Sure, it's nice to have space to yourself (as my Decemberists post indicates) but it just sucks the life out of everything. You're stuck in a wooden auditorium chair, in a cavernous, lifeless, pristine, venerable venue. Nobody's at ease, due in no small part to the ushers Gestapo manning the aisles, checking tickets. What fun is that?!? What is this, a fucking school assembly? It's hard enough for acts in Venue Purgatory to connect with audiences in a place like Con Hall even when you aren't holding guns to everyone's heads.

2) The spaciousness and emptiness of Con Hall resulted in a criminally poor reception for incomparable ass-kicker Ted Leo. The place was goddamn empty. Come on, people. Ted Leo is a big deal. Show some respect.

3) The crowd, on the whole, sucked. The venue gets the lion's share of the blame, but a quality crowd could have overcome that. Seriously, everyone in the balconies was just sitting there like they wanted to puke. What'd you buy the ticket for if you're just gonna sit there like a dead fish all night? Too cool to rock out? Don't even get me started on the skew towards new material like "Crooked Teeth" that doesn't hold a candle to anything on The Photo Album. They couldn't ALL have been there to have their tears jerked by "I Will Follow You Into The Dark." I imagine that if I said, "We have the facts... aaaaaaand?" to 99% of the audience, they would be incapable of finishing the thought. (On election night, no less!) Anyway, I guess it's more evidence that sharing is bad.

But having said all that, I still have an exceedingly positive take on the show.

1) Just to reiterate, Ted Leo is awesome. Even from a distance, with naught but empty seats surrounding him, he really rocked out. I'd love to see him headline a show sometime... preferably after I've had a chance to become better-acquainted with Hearts of Oak and The Tyranny of Distance.

2) I forgot how great Death Cab is. It's been a while since Plans came out, and they've been out-of-sight/out-of-mind ever since. This show reminded me that DCFC, in their heart of hearts, is the same awesome band that made Transatlanticism, and not the merely-good incarnation that made Plans. I recall watching their concert DVD, Drive Well, Sleep Carefully, and thinking the band in the concert video wouldn't exist going forward. Entirely untrue. The set list shows an awful lot of older tunes... it's not as if they were catering to the new fans. They rock in spite of their new audience, and it's the new fans' job to come around, not vice versa. That's the right approach, and I'm glad they went that way. In short, rumors of the band's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

3) They played a long set, plus three songs in the encore. Definitely got my money's worth out of them.

You can read DCist for more substance about the show itself. But it should suffice to say that they exceeded my expectations, and alleviated most of my concerns. I still hope for a return to Transatlanticism-style rock for their next album, but even if not, at least I know I've seen them at the top of their game.

Set List
Marching Bands of Manhattan
The New Year
We Laugh Indoors
Why’d You want to Live Here
Crooked Teeth
Title and Registration
Lightness
Photobooth
Movie Script Ending
Company Calls
Company Calls Epilogue
I Will Follow You into the Dark
Soul Meets Body
I Was a Kaleidoscope
We Looked Like Giants
Transatlanticism

[encore]
Your Heart is An Empty Room
I'm Going Home (Sonics cover)
The Sound of Settling

Live: Tapes 'n Tapes

Tapes 'n Tapes
10/31/06 @ Black Cat


(Flickr user vassego... thanks again)

In A Word
Fun.

In More Words
I liked it. I haven't got much to say beyond that. I like the band, and I liked the show. Nothing mind-blowing, but definitely recommended. They're a solid band, and they're on their way up.

I have to admit that the most memorable part of the evening, for me, was the band's Halloween costumes. Not that the get-ups were so great, but it added something to have Gordon perform all night as Tyrone Biggums. (He made it almost all the way through the show without coming out of character during his stage banter. So close...)

DIY was certainly the name of the game. TNT didn't even have a roadie. They hauled all their own shit, and didn't even have a proper "headliner" entrance... they just kinda went "OK, we're ready" and started playing. I dig that it's kinda endearing that they're not getting too puffed-up in the head about themselves until they have some real success and all, but it kinda took away from the drama of the moment. They're a band of note. The Cat was packed full of people waiting for them. I expected at least a little fanfare.

But that has nothing to do with the tunes. They were good. They were not revelatory, but they followed through on their promise. I had a good time. And I got to stand under the air conditioner (ahhhhhhhhh).

Live: The Decemberists

The Decemberists
10/29/06 at 9:30 Club


(Flickr user vassego)

In Ten Words Of Four Letters Or Fewer
It is the best show I have ever been to.

In A Great Many Words
It's official. Between my review of The Crane Wife, and my thoughts concerning this concert, I am no longer capable of discussing The Decemberists objectively. They inspire a serious and cult-like love amongst their fans, and I've chugged enough Kool-Aid to hydrate me into 2008. You have my permission to start taking grains of salt now.

But don't take too many. The passion I feel about this show in particular is legitimate. Sure, it's easy to just yell and scream "best sh0w evarrrr" or whatever in the immediate wake of a concert. You're running on adrenaline, it's immediate in your thoughts, and so forth. Knowing this, I gave it a couple weeks to marinate in my mind before posting. I've even been to a couple shows since, just to add some controls into the equation. I write this all in cold blood.

It's still the best show I've ever been to.

For a band to be so beloved (by me) going into a concert, and still come out exceeding my high expectations, is a real achievement. It was a perfect concert. Totally perfect.

What's funny is that you would never expect The Decemberists to be a "bring the house down" kind of band. The words used to describe their recorded work are along the lines of "quaint," "precious," "chamber pop," "literary," "anachronistic" and such. Not "knock your socks off your ass." And yet that's exactly what they did. I got rocked. Every song was slammed out of the park, hard as could be, every ounce of juice squeezed out as the song sailed over the fence. I can't help but feel that I saw the band at the peak of its powers.

As they did on The Crane Wife, the band proves itself to be an agile, highly-skilled unit. The songs were impressively faithful to their recorded versions, despite a wealth of strange instrumentation (bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, others). And they had energy to burn. Much of the credit for that belongs to drummer John Moen. I never paid much mind to his drumming on the albums, but in person he really got my attention. He commanded the band, driving and fueling its grooves, as any great drummer should. I'm glad I finally noticed his work, because it deserves praise.

Perhaps unsurprising was the quality of the band's stage presence. Beyond simply appearing to have a good time, which goes a long way, they executed a number of crowd-pleasing, spontaneous-seeming "bits." Band members went into the audience and acted out scenes of Colin's choosing. Colin grabbed cameras and cell phones from the audience, futzing around with them during extended grooves. Nothing revolutionary, nor even particularly original in retrospect, but definitely fun. After all, even contrived theatrics can be made to feel genuine and special. The bottom line is that crowds love Colin Meloy, Rock Star, and he convinced us that everyone on stage was having as much fun as we were in the pit.

As if tunes and tomfoolery wouldn't have been enough, I have to say it was also the most pleasant concert-going experience of my lifetime. Nobody forcing their way forward by shoving people out of their way... nobody puffing their smoke away from their own face and into mine... nobody dancing into me with their elbows... not so much as a whiff of douchebaggery all night long. Having your personal space respected in its entirety for nigh on four hours at a sold-out rock show is a once-in-a-lifetime event; as such, I am highly appreciative. I cite three main factors:

1) The ban on smoking, by band request (THANK YOU)
2) My ears weren't ringing, even a little bit, on my way home
3) The laid-back, respectful, and all-around considerate demeanor of the average Decemberists fan

So not only did I get to see one of my favorite bands, playing what will likely be their best music, but the 9:30 Club just so happened to be a jerk-free zone for the entire night. I couldn't have been any happier.

Other fun thoughts:

* When I went inside, around 8:00, the balcony was full and the floor was about half-full. And the area around the bar was totally unattended. It was bizarre. My first instinct was that they were prevented from selling beer on Sunday or something. I actually asked the bartender if he was serving beer or not. (That question got quite a look.) I guess none of the early arrivals wanted to lose their place in the crowd by having a drink, but I was able to leave and return to my spot without incident. Just weird.

* If you're familiar with Castaways and Cutouts, the band's first full-length, you know the miserable story of poor, unfortunate, prematurely dry-ravine-birthed Leslie Anne Levine. During the encore, Colin held up a baby doll with "Leslie Anne Levine" written on it, and tossed it into the crowd. (The guy right next to me caught it, and gave to his girlfriend. Can't argue with that.) But that's exactly the kind of humor you don't expect right away from a guy who makes his living telling gut-wrenching tragedies. And it's a cute way to nod to the older material without having to actually perform it.

SET LIST
Crane Wife 3
The Island
We Both Go Down Together
The Engine Driver
Yankee Bayonet
Perfect Crime #2
Shankill Butchers
Song for Myla Goldberg
O, Valencia!
July, July!
16 Military Wives
Crane Wife 1 & 2
Sons and Daughters

[encore]
Culling of the Fold
Legionnaire’s Lament
A Cautionary Song

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

So I voted today.  The church in Silver Spring was pretty crowded; took me about an hour from start to finish.  Hopefully the folks in those parts will continue to pack the church... seeing as folks in my neighborhood are more likely to vote with their crispy moderate liberal minds and go with Cardin and O'Malley.

Random observations about voting:

1) There was a 13 month-old toddler behind me walking around and looking generally thrilled by life.  That made the time pass a little quicker.

2) I was expecting some Diebold-related chicanery, but it was even crazier than I expected.  Every time I checked a Democrat's name, the voting machine popped up a warning that read, "Are you sure you want to vote for the Homocrat?"  How nuts is that???  Maybe it's a bug or something... after all, everyone knows the Homocrat warning was supposed to come up for the Republicans.

3) There was a shortage of voter access cards in the polling area.  The church broke into two different lines... one for checking in to get an access card, and one for the Diebold Republ-o-matic machines.  But just like 2004, the second line grew too long, which meant that the first line couldn't move until enough access cards were returned.  While I realize that the rate-limiting step is the people in the booths, is it really that difficult to have a shitload of plastic cards lying around?  Given how easily the machines can be hacked, the little plastic doohickeys can't be that expensive.

3a) The word "doohickey" just made it through my spell-checker.  That's not about voting, that's just interesting to me.

4) I'm probably not the first to ask this question, but I wonder whether the Republicans' perpetual resistance to "facts" and "evidence" when discussing their policies has anything to do with their religion.  Christianity is a matter of faith; evidence is not just irrelevant, but frowned-upon.  Anyone know any prominent Republicans with a distaste for facts and evidence?  It could just be a matter of debate skills, but Bush is probably better at practicing blind faith than he is at arguing.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Enough With The Music Already!

It's been all-music-all-the-time on this POS blog lately.  Let's mix it up.

STUDIO 60
I think I have officially stopped watching Studio 60.  It's entertaining enough, I guess.  But that's just it, isn't it?  "I guess."  If they haven't got me by now, what would I miss, really, if I stop watching?

I don't know, it just feels contrived.  Sports Night looks like a crappy office, and thus feels very true.  The West Wing looks incredibly lush, which of course one would expect from the White House, but is inhabited by uncharacteristically cute and quirky individuals.  Hence the appeal.  Studio 60, on the other hand, is the mother of all TV shows.  If a show treated itself like the White House, you'd have Studio 60.  It's beyond belief.

More importantly, you lose an important Sorkin element: seeing an austere environment populated by quirky nutbags.  It's the juxtaposition of context that makes Sports Night and The West Wing work as much as they do.  Weirdo smart-asses running America, or a pull-up-your-bootstraps TV show, is appealing.  Being amusing is enough, because that amusing behavior breaks down barriers of seriousness.  Those barriers don't exist in the Studio 60 world... because it's a comedy show!  OF COURSE they're funny!  It's exactly what you expect!  They're in context!  Where's the surprise?

Removing that fish-out-of-water element leaves you with being amused by the weekly dramas surrounding the assembly of a television show that's too impeccable, and not funny enough, to believe.

It's really too bad, because it seemed like Sorkin-heads have finally reached critical mass.  We could have supported a fledgling show.  But I don't see this making it much further.  The cost of paying all these actors has to be friggin off the charts.

NIP/TUCK
Slowly, but surely, catching up to real time.  I'm a couple episodes into Season 3 now.  I gotta say, Season 2 was the most consistently mind-fucking series of TV I've ever watched.  Every episode left you in need of a hug.  And the cliffhanger goes in the Mindfuck Hall of Fame.  I was mesmerized. They sure know how to end a season.

Gotta say, though... I'm hoping they don't start to slip.  The apparent distress caused in episode 2, by the news that Dr. Troy's gorilla patient had been killed by her mate, teetered well into Unintentional Comedy terrain.  Oh noes, the gorilla died.  But for God's sake, Doctor, did the Thompson's gazelle survive???  The hallmark of Nip/Tuck is making ridiculous circumstances believable, but that may have been the first one that totally failed.  I'd rather not have that happen again.  Hopefully it's just a blip on the radar.

THE DEPARTED
Great movie.  Leaps and bounds ahead of Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong classic on which it's based.  It's no GoodFellas, but still one of the better gangster movies in recent memory.  As laugh-out-loud funny as a serious gangster movie will ever get.  Not that it's all a big joke;   It's certainly faithful to Boston, in terms of accents, locations, racism, and the gallows humor.  And what's more, Crazy Jack seems perfectly at home in my fair city.  Maybe he should move!

My main complaint is with the the conclusion(s).  Without spoiling anything, I expected something a little more jarring.  And given that it wasn't, I'm not sure what the intended message is (besides "bang," that is).  I really can't elaborate further without ruining everything.  But I want to see it again... maybe another look will make my gripes disappear.

Anyway, definitely worth the price of admission.  I give it 4 pahhhking spahts out of 5.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Live: Art Brut

Art Brut
10.17.06 @ Black Cat

In 1,000 Words


In Two Words, Or Three, Depending On Your Interpretation Of Hyphens
Shit-eating grin.

Just Review The Goddamn Concert Already
I haven't got as much to say about this show as I did about the TVOTR show. With Art Brut, there was not an opening of eyes. It wasn't a "blown away" situation, because I was sold on Art Brut a long time ago. I've been listening to Bang Bang Rock And Roll for almost two years now, and it still makes me laugh. The live act is more of the same... which is a good thing. My face was locked in a grin for the vast majority of the show.

That reaction is due in large part to the unbounded charisma of Eddie Argos. He is flat-out hilarious. His personality just oozes through every bit of his performance. His dry, post-modern cheek is endlessly amusing, skillfully walking the line between camp and brilliance. There's something about his voice that's just inherently goofy and enjoyable.

Despite the light sense of humor, they're more than a novelty act. Musically speaking, they are simple, skilled, and accessible. They've been touring almost non-stop for two years, and it shows. Just a really tight unit that knows those songs forwards and backwards by now. I knew Eddie would be worth the ticket price, but the band was better than I expected.

Regardless, Art Brut live gets four and a half Rusted Guns of Milan out of five!

Two bands opened. I wrote about The Spinto Band, whom I like an awful lot, a couple weeks ago. They lived up to my heightened expectations... very fun band. Also opening was Tokyo Police Club, who were awfully good considering that they were the opener to an opener. TPC was okay, but I expected complete disaster. If their music catches up to their stage energy, they could be something.

Concert News

* Death Cab for Cutie, on whom the jury is still out (IMHO) pending their follow-up to Plans, is coming to Constitution Hall in a couple weeks.  I wasn't sure right away that I wanted to go, but I changed my mind.  I'm going.  It'll be a good show.  And for all my reservations about Plans, I still listen to it more often than any of their other albums.  I'm really just holding them to a higher standard.  (Because they know better!!!)

Anyway, all of those reservations about the show just got flushed down the loo.  Turns out Ted Leo & the Pharmacists will be the opener.  Now I'm totally looking forward to the show.  I would have gone to see Ted on his own.

* Thanksgiving sucks.  I like my family and the free turkey and all, but I have to miss The Hold Steady and Robert Randolph.  They couldn't wait for me to get back?!?  I feel like I just stepped on the burning paper bag on my doorstep.  Festive holiday spirit my ass!  At least I'll be around for My Morning Jacket.  That'll be fun.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

OH SH1TS

OMG, new details on next Bloc Party album!!!  Yay!  But I have to wait until February for it.  Boo.  But I can file-share it!  Yay!  But that's illegal.  Boo.  But always I can move Kazakhstan, where is make no rules!  Is glad!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Moon Over My Hammy

According to Idolator, the Unification Church owns Manhattan concert venue Hammerstein Ballroom, so that they can perform mass marriages there.  Yikes.  This is the same church/cult founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, after Jesus instructed him in 1935 to undo the disastrous effect of original sin on humanity.  I suppose it's possible that concert halls, fisheries and irrelevant right-wing newspapers are what Jesus would have tackled next, had he not been so rudely interrupted by those pesky Romans.  In fact, wasn't it Mark 14:73-74...

(73) And the LORD said, "Blessed art thou
Who booketh Christina Aguilera
With special guest Nate Dogg."
(74) Thus came the masses to huddle forth
And pass amongst their numbers the loaves and fishes
And sheets of papyrus, upon which could be seen
The doings of Nazarene folk who sayeth one thing
And yet doeth things other.

(Please note that I did not use the common derogatory term for members of the UC.  I don't want any antiquated religious slurs thrown back in my face if I ever move to Virginia and run for Senator.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Live: TV On The Radio

TV On The Radio
10/15/06 @ 9:30 Club

In Two Words
Wow.  Goddamn. 

In More Words
Half the songs they performed made me incapable of saying anything other than one, or both, of those words.

Having seen them, my suspicions were correct: the live show totally did it for me.  I now believe all the hype to be true; they showed me what all the howling's for.  (And I finally got my cookies!)

But that doesn't mean I'll be withdrawing my criticism of their albums.  Just the opposite, in fact: I think I'm more right about their album work now that I've seen them.  It's not that they aren't good albums.  It's that neither Return to Cookie Mountain nor Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes packs anything resembling the wallop to the chops I got on Sunday night.  When the fuzz-noise guitar undercurrent of the album tracks is brought up front, it changes everything.  I needed that in order to "get it."

It troubles me that it takes a live show to understand what the hell they're doing.  It's one thing for the show to be better than the album, but for it to be a different beast entirely is a problem.  What if you and a friend were having a discussion over the phone, and your friend was incapable of explaining his position without showing you in person?  If your friend lives in Oregon and you're in DC, it's impractical.  Likewise, there will come a time when having TV On The Radio explain their music to you in person will be impractical for everyone involved.  The venues won't be as intimate as 9:30 forever.

I'm not sure I'll ever see a solution to my puzzle.  The band's mission does not seem to involve rock-out albums, particularly when the albums are received as well as Cookie Mountain is.  Then again, what the hell do I know?  I'll probably come all the way around on them eventually, and this whole problem will disappear.  (Maybe masking guitar reverb in the studio is a province of the brave?)

Anyway, I do feel like I understand them a lot better.  Best show I've seen in quite a while.  I'm sold.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Killers: Sam's Town

Slight variation for the second installment of IRTRTCMM, but only inasmuch as I feel my opinion about this subject metamorphosing daily.

I'm not a huge fan of The Killers, as previous posts can demonstrate.  I go back and forth on them.  Hot Fuss was way overrated.  Sam's Town is the kind of half-assed concept album you'd expect from a band that hasn't really got anything to say.  And Brandon Flowers is a genuine, Grade A dick; his candor is the only aspect of his public persona worthy of respect.  All of this vitriol culminated in a generally anti-Sam's Town sentiment amongst reviewers.

I'm here to call bullshit.

Sam's Town is a far more consistent record than Hot Fuss.  Sure, none of the songs are as good as "Mr. Brightside" or "Somebody Told Me," but it's got the same glitzy, danceable pop sound as before.  It's still a Killers album, and identifiably so.  It may have deviated from the first verse a bit, but how does that make it any different from every other follow-up to a multi-platinum debut ever?  Can't we, as a nation, find at least one new angle for criticizing sophomore albums?

The thing that I find most off-target is this Bruce Springsteen obsession.  Apparently all you need to do to get a message out there nowadays is provide it in your press kit, because half the reviews out there make some mention of Springsteen as B-Flow's primary influence.  Of course, they weren't amused.  "Euhhh, well it's not Springsteen."  Oh, you think so, Doctor?  Was it the dance beat that tipped you off, Monsieur Poirot, or was it the disco high hats?  Did anyone seriously confuse "Don't you want to feel my bones on your bones / It's only natural" with anything in Springsteen's catalog?  The connection isn't as big as it looks.

If anything, it's the lyrics that caused all of this outrage.  But it's not even about sounding like Springsteen as much as it's about Flowers' persona.  He got cocky beyond what he should, and now in failure the critics are letting him have it beyond what they shouldSam's Town wasn't even the biggest Springsteen rip-off to be released that day, and yet Flowers gets crucified for failing to reach The Boss' level.  But he doesn't need to write good lyrics.  He's a radio star.  Does it even matter what he's talking about?  So he throws in the odd ham-handed reference to a back roads or Jesus, or both, instead of being sarcastic about shiny transvestites or whatever.  Who cares?

If you're gonna break Sam's Town down that far, you'll find that the real problem isn't a Springsteen complex, but a Sgt. Pepper complex: they think they've been more theatrical than they actually have.  That's primarily due to the intro/outro tracks.  Both deviate from the musical feel of the surrounding tracks, break the fourth wall, and get overly cute, but in the end they just sound stupid and graceless.  "We loved to have you with us / even if it's just for the day," eh?  Good lord.  Despite being brief mistakes, they are prominently-placed mistakes, accomplishing little besides distracting from all the things they did so well between the two bookends.  Sigh.

Regardless, pop albums don't need to withstand that level of scrutiny.  The truth is that Sam's Town still works... mostly.  It's fun, it's still The Killers, and it will succeed enough to keep The Killers at the top of the A-list.  I'm just sick of the backlash.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jeff Likes The Spinto Band

I checked out The Spinto Band's 2005 album, Nice and Nicely Done, on a lark, since they're opening for Art Brut on Tuesday.  I'm pleasantly surprised.  They remind me a lot of Imperial Teen, but without the dark, brooding sense that they're going to carve you up and throw you in a suitcase.  In other words, good power-pop.  I like it.

Grizzly Bear, on the other hand, loses.  I got Yellow House, and I think I'd rather watch the paint dry on said house.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Public Service Announcement

The men's room at Union Station smells like vaginas.  Yes, that's right... vaginas.  I've used that restroom twice, and it's smelled like vaginas twice.  A whole big bag of vaginas.

And I'm not talking about that classic, immediately-identifiable aroma, either.  If it were just that, I'd have just said the place smells like vegetarian pad thai and left it at that.  There's nothing about plain old vagina smell that a dedicated person can't overcome.  But the odor in question is genuinely terrifying.  I'm talking caveman vaginas.  Vaginis neanderthalensis.  I'm stunned that the tiles don't fall right off the wall.  That shit violates the Geneva Convention... right under the nose of Congress, no less.  (So to speak.)

I haven't been in recently or anything.  I was just thinking about it today.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Crane Wife Revisited

It's been a month or two since I first raved about The Crane Wife.  My opinion hasn't changed one lick.  Not to be overdramatic, but I love it, sing its praises, and will kill in its name of my own accord.  Albums don't often dig this deeply into my soul.  It's good on so many different levels, and without a single weakness to speak of beyond personal tastes.  The only thing left to say is that I can listen to it on repeat by choice.  The ultimate compliment!  The last album to earn that honor with me was Jimmy Eat World's underrated Futures.  In short, The Decemberists win.

The only thing that's changed since my initial reaction, apart from the bloom of young love, is the following observation concerning the album's track order:

1) anthemic opener
2) twelve-minute epic in multiple parts
3) classic Decemberists-type tune
4) classic Decemberists-type tune
5) experiment with a "new sound"
6) experiment with a "new sound"
7) classic Decemberists-type tune
8) classic Decemberists-type tune
9) twelve-minute epic in multiple parts
10) anthemic closer

Not only is it brilliant, but symmetrically so.  It's like holding a mirror up to my friggin brain!  More fuel for the "not just ambitious but also well-executed" fire.

OK, I'll shut up about it now.  But if you're at all curious, the first single ("O Valencia!") can be downloaded here.  (I take no responsibility for link expiration.)

Emory, The Melons Are On Fire!!!

So I was wrong before about the Aqua Teen movie being ready for summer 2006.  And at this point, I'm not declaring this to be 100% for real until I start seeing some trailers and official movie sites.  But it sure looks like it's for real, doesn't it?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Whoa... Creepy...

I watched three items of television tonight.  I watched an episode of Nip/Tuck from season two, the latest Studio 60, and a chunk of the original Police Academy.  Totally random TV, right?  Except inasmuch as all three programs included montages that used the song "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles.  And each show featured a different version of the song.  Let's see if you can match the montages to their shows.

A. Nip/Tuck
B. Studio 60
C. Police Academy

1. Two meat-headed recruits, both slow-dancing at the end of the night with a leather-clad gay man.  By accident.
2. Two wealthy doctors, best friends for 17 years, having a threesome with a hooker that looks somewhat like the wife of one of the doctors.
3. A large cast of snarky, fast-talking television professionals celebrating a big ratings win.  Because dammit, they're all in this together!

Spooner Than Fiction

This is nothing new, but after watching the trailer for the new Will Ferrell dramedy Stranger Than Fiction, I noticed that Britt Daniel of Spoon scored the film.  The STF folks didn't just co-opt "The Way We Get By" and "I Turn My Camera On" because Spoon has become a go-to band for eclectic movie commercials and, of all things, football game montages... they did it because they had an in!  But the manner of a worldwide increase in Spoon is irrelevant... the increase itself is what's important.

In that vein, the world is likely to make a quantum leap forward in the coming year, according to Pitchfork, due to the release of a Daniel solo album and the next Spoon album.  Nice.

I Reserve The Right To Change My Mind, Vol. I

This newest feature concerns TV On The RadioReturn To Cookie Mountain has become a massive critical/underground success and an instant classic of visionary rock.  But, as an admitted late adopter, it's taking me a while to make up my mind about them.

I recognize why TVOTR is a big deal.  This is not a Strap Your Strands Stray Scram strituation situation, where I think TVOTR should be purged from the universe as violently as possible.  Not at all; their worthiness is self-evident.  Songs like "Province" and "Wolf Like Me" are special, particularly "Wolf."  As instrumentalists, they are talented to a man.  Their musical ethic, integrating portions of eclectic-with-respect-to-each-other genres (blues, Afro-pop, post-rock, etc.), works well, and in surprising ways.  The end result, as a whole, has a beautiful quality to it that I can't really grasp.  It's enough to convince me that TVOTR should make music for as long as they want.

The thing is... I'm not having much fun on Cookie Mountain.  In short, I was promised cookies, and I'd like them, please.

To illustrate, consider the curious case of Sigur Rós.  Their ethic is similar to TVOTR's: the music is manipulated to elicit a wide array of emotional responses, rather than just rocking first and asking questions later.  After a few stunning atmospheric albums, notably 2001's Agaetis Byrjun, they pumped up the rock on their most recent album, Takk.  Not only does "Glosoli" rock to the core while residing in the band's idiom, it is a better demonstration of what Sigur Rós wants to do on an artistic level: build the momentum (and the audience's emotion) slowly, and release it all into a nuclear explosion.  Takk is littered with songs that do likewise.  Because I was able to latch onto Takk, I can appreciate Agaetis Byrjun a lot more than I would otherwise.  The later, accessible album put their earlier work in perspective for me.

TVOTR needs their balls-to-the-wall rock-out moment... that moment where I can appreciate everything else the band is about.  Despite having sampled a vast array of musical genres, they seem to have done so without maintaining the core element that makes each genre so great: energy.  The hypnotic slower tempos in which the band lingers work a little too well on me.  By the end, the songs just bleed together.

It's not like they can't turn up the intensity.  "Wolf Like Me" and "Wash The Day" prove that they can.  But it's not enough.  Besides, it's obvious that rocking out is not part of the mission.  Maybe that's what bothers me... "Wolf" is a tease.  They give us The Rock, followed by a series of songs that seem flat by comparison.  I want more "Wolf," but the band doesn't.  Maybe they'll give it to me, maybe they won't.  But I think they need it.

Other bands I've accused of holding back have proven me wrong in the end.  Bloc Party and Tapes 'n Tapes come to mind.  But both Silent Alarm and The Loon project a deeper intensity beneath their lacking-on-the-surface sound.  They keep going crazy-go-nuts in their own way, and you eventually come around.  TVOTR does not carry that kind of intensity.  There's no rush, no adrenaline.  It just rolls, and rolls, and rolls.  I want more than that.

So, as of October 2, 2006, I think Return to Cookie Mountain is a portobello burger from a five-star restaurant: no matter how perfectly they cook it, I'd rather have prime rib.  But I reserve the right to change my mind.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Look Who's Back!!!

HNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNGH!

And it gets better... look who else is back!



The only way this day could get better is for someone to faithfully reproduce Dark Castle in Flash and make it available for free over the internet. So that I can play it once or twice and forget about it again. (Boy, it's just Dark Castle day today, huh?)

Some Colin Meloy Trivia

Old news, but a couple weeks ago Pitchfork ran a "what's in your CD player"-type feature on The Decemberists' Colin Meloy.  The music picks are all well and good, but I was more interested in these two tidbits:

1) He owns a bouzouki.  SHUT THAT BLOODY BOUZOUKI UP!!!
2) He names Snood as his favorite video game.  While that's enough to endear him to any Haverford alum, the truly excellent news was his second choice: Dark Castle, which comes as absolutely no surprise.  Nyuh-nyuh-nyuh-nyuh-nyuh!

Can't wait for them to come to town in October...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Paging Mr. Orwell

This comment on Slashdot terrifies me.  Let me get this straight... according to the Baltimore Police, simply out-debating a pair of Diebold representatives, on the subject of their voting machine's accidental lack of security and intentional lack of a legitimate audit trail, is grounds for arrest?  Fabulous.  I didn't realize you could be arrested for aggravated debate.

But it's not like there's some vast Hollywood-style conspiracy going on here.  Let's assume, for the moment, that we can confirm  It's pretty clear what happened:
  • The two Diebold douchebags exaggerated the trouble this guy was making because, as cowardly, spineless sales reps, they are taught to do anything at all to keep people from degrading their product.  Lying is no sweat to scum like them.
  • The policemen, being glorified automatons to begin with, decided not to consider whether their mission had anything to do with truth, justice, the American way, or even just protecting people, and chose instead to swing their big cop dicks around and keep things copacetic.  Finally, a case where enforcing the law to the letter (hmmmm, which amendment is it?) would have actually benefited the little guy... and they don't do it.  Ha.
My point is that it doesn't take any mustache-twirling or bribery or anything to make a 1984-esque situation arise.  All it takes is a whole lot of indifference, selfishness, and ass-covering.  At that point, it's just two equally ignorant groups of people following the new American ethic: doing the right thing means doing whatever it is that makes your life easiest.  (You know, because I got my own problems to worry about.)  Pathetic.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

DC Politics Update

So, this guy Jonathan Rees just ran for the Ward 3 council seat.  I've been reading about his hijinks for months but never really tuned in.  Then I found out that he got a grand total of 28 votes, out of 25,000 people, in the primary.  I believe Sherriff Gone Getcha got more votes than that in his re-election campaign, although I remember hearing that he was facing a strong challenge from Dr. Don't Know.  For further comparison, Dante's girlfriend in Clerks sucked 37 dicks, which is 9 more dicks than Rees had votes.

Did I mention that his campaign strategy was to convince the entire city how completely fucking batshit insane he is???  He basically got $500 from the city to run a campaign that primarily involved a) spamming Craig's List users and b) bombarding every media/politics blog in town with comment-section rants about "snobs" and "rich white trash" (he's white), always posing as someone else, as if to create a "community" of Rees followers.  I'm gonna go ahead and guess that he used more than 28 aliases during the campaign.

In retrospect, the fact that his blog is called Crack City Blog should have tipped me off.  There's some excellent stuff in there.  I like how he claims that the constituents of Ward 3, whom he was trying to win over, in theory, are the District's primary source of genital herpes.  He's like a cross between the average Howard Stern guest and my dad.  Also fun is evidence of his spammery.  It's a lot funnier when you remember that he actually ran for the seat.  It wasn't a goof.  Maybe I was wrong about politics not being fun...

Credit Card Pranks

Far be it from me to come up with unique content.  So, here's more of someone else's stuff.

Now, let's assume that this wasn't a complete put-on, and that some of these receipts are legitimate.  Can any of the scientists in the audience tell me how the author fails to preserve the integrity of his "experiment?"  If you said, "by conspicuously snapping pictures of his wacky signature, thus suggesting to each clerk and waiter that he's probably not trying to surreptitiously rip somebody off," you win.

Sure, his point is that a "good" employee would be a dick and force him to re-do the signature for real.  But who would make such a spectacle of himself while trying to sneak something past the credit card's real owner?  He basically identified himself by taking these goofy pictures.  The real question should be "how much do I need to spend before someone decides that my wacky behavior is insufficient identification?"

All in all, though, good prank.  It's not the Upper Decker or anything, but pretty good.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Studio 60 On The Wire



Good show. The bottom line is that I was both amused and entertained.

It's not really an unqualified rave, though. The first episode isn't going to sell anyone who wasn't sold already. There wasn't a great, perfect Sorkin double-take laugh. There was an awful lot of storytelling, which was necessary given that there's like 17 main characters on the show. And the primary themes were awfully Sports Night to me... TV's going to hell, why won't somebody stand up for what's right, look at all these suits hiding behind Standards & Practices, etc. and so forth. Seen it.

But it's also important to recognize that we got exactly what we wanted, which is more Sorkin. Besides, you can't judge TV on the first episode of a show. No worthwhile sitcom/drama in TV history has ever failed to pick up steam. Neither The West Wing nor Sports Night were as good out of the gate as they eventually became. I see no reason for Studio 60 to be any different.

And now for something completely different...




If you'll allow me to spray on a bit of Pomposity For Men, by Calvin Klein...

We're living in a veritable golden age of hour-long dramas. Just in the last six or seven years we've seen the rise of The Sopranos, Rescue Me, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Nip/Tuck, 24, Lost, and plenty of others that I may have missed. ("You're risking a patient's LIFE!!!") After decades of idiotic shit in the vein of The Love Boat and Melrose Place, it's a relief to know that there's some actual good television out there for public consumption.

The Wire is head and shoulders above anything on that list.

It's the most important TV drama ever made, and easily the most authentic, the most true. It's faithful... detail-oriented... intelligent... natural... down-to-Earth... heartbreaking... and funny. No television show takes its responsibility more seriously, and no other show is as successful from an artistic standpoint. It should be required viewing for older schoolkids, if only to bang home the point that anything can be deconstructed, and everything should be looked at with one eye askew.

But the reason it works so well is that it's so goddamn entertaining, despite being a civics lesson. It's got all the hallmarks of other sprawling dramas... soap opera intrigue, character arcs to keep track of, hell just characters to keep track of. But while it looks like steak, smells like steak, and tastes like steak, it's actually a green salad with avocado and yellow tomatoes. And I mean that as a compliment.

Your Daily Dose Of Brain

If you're anything like me, your knuckles drag along the ground, you drool on your food, and your favorite word is "GAAAAAAAAAAAAAA."  But if you're a mite smarter than that, you probably find the collection of new knowledge and expertise to be an exciting and rewarding enterprise.

For those in the first group... a very warm gaaaaaaaaaaaaa, brothers and sisters!

For those of you in the latter group, however, behold: via Lifehacker comes news of a random WikiHow generator.  Basically, all you have to do is go to the URL in the above link, and wha-la, blow-by-blow instructions for performing a task you would never think to ask about.  Today I came across this, which pretty much blew my mind.  If you do that every morning, first thing, imagine how smart you'll be after a couple months.  Makes those Word Of The Day emails look like a bunch of crybaby shit.  Yeah, CRYBABY SHIT.  Go cry on your postprandial furbelow, quidnunc!  GAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Star Wars DVDs + Slashdot Slashdotted

I wanted to check out what was going on on Slashdot re: the new Star Wars DVDs, except the Slashdot link gave a 503 server error.  Perhaps a Slashdot page was so uniformly popular that it Slashdotted itself, instead of Slashdotting everyone else for a change!  Like how John Malkovich climbed up into his own head.  Is there even a name for that?  Just thought it was interesting.

Anyway, back to the DVDs.  I pre-ordered them a month ago.  I got excited about the prospect of the original versions finally being available.  And guess what.  I wish I'd never bought them.  In fact, I'm considering sending them back to Amazon and putting that money towards something, anything, that George Lucas hates.

Why?  Because it turns out the original versions on DVD aren't anamorphic.  The video isn't an expanded widescreen image, like pretty much every other major studio DVD since 2000, but a 4:3 image with black bars above and below the film.  So when I watch on my widescreen TV, I will get black bars around the sides, as well as extra-fat ones on top, giving me a miniature image of the film.  Kids, anamorphic widescreen DVD is an industry requirement at this point.  Even the crappiest straight-to-video DVDs come with anamorphic transfers.  To go the 4:3 route is like releasing a CD in mono instead of stereo, or selling black-and-white televisions.  It actively demeans the content.

So, you might ask, what exactly am I pissed off about?  After years of bitching, I finally got what I wanted.  It's better than nothing (arguably), since my only other option was to buy older versions that wouldn't be anamorphic either.  That's partially true.  In fact, I will probably keep the DVDs after all because of the "better than nothing" factor.  However, three things still sting me.

1) I'm most pissed because I could have saved my money.  The disc specs have been out there for months, and I never sought them out, assuming they couldn't possibly release a movie in anything but anamorphic.  Obviously, I was wrong.  But that's something I could have done something about.  I could have posted this rant, like, four months ago and spread the gospel truth about these DVDs being another fucking rip-off.

2) The whole story behind the release of the original Star Wars movies on DVD has been LucasFilm finally coming clean and releasing the films as they should have.  This was supposed to be an "okay, fine, we'll do it, but this is the last time" situation, where the consumers were actually being acknowledged.  It was a nod to the consumers who have spent waaaaay too much money over the years on the Star Wars universe, finally giving us what we want.  Instead, it's just another lesson meant to show their best customers how wrong they are.  Unbelievable.

3) This whole situation was 100% avoidable.  Who in their right mind would perpetually treat their customer base like shit to this extent?!?  With regard to his Special Editions, the people have spoken: they're fine, but most of us would ultimately prefer the originals, and all of us would like to choose between both versions.  This is no longer in dispute.  For LucasFilm to continue to deny this, at the expense of a customer base that has been unflinchingly loyal (from a profit/loss standpoint) to LucasFilm's products, shows a deep, genuine contempt for their base.  That, my friends, is truly pathetic.

But there's good news.  I'm not buying these fuckin' things again.  Well, not unless two things happen:

* George Lucas dies, hopefully from something both painful and ironic (for example, let's say he shoots first in a duel but, improbably, is shot and killed)

* The old versions are restored and re-transferred by a non-partisan firm unaffiliated with of LucasFilm or ILM.  I will never trust anyone Lucas has ever worked with, because I will always suspect some ulterior motive.

So, that's it.  Every repackaging of Star Wars henceforth shall be assumed, by me, to be some sort of rip-off until those conditions are met.  Right now, I'd rather sign up for every service Verizon offers than buy another Star Wars anything after this.  Disgusting.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tsotsi

What a movie.  Great acting, great writing, great story, great everything.

It's remarkable that the filmmakers managed to balance unflinching grit with a very romantic notion about salvation, and did so without ruining or cheapening either side of the equation.  Those two ideas oppose each other more often than not.  Maybe you think, "yeah, we hate Hollywood endings, we're gonna show how it really is," but you end up making a movie that's more defeatist than necessary.  On the other hand, you can't make a squeaky-clean story about Tsotsi (one-time child rapper Lil' Bow Wow), a gangster with a heart of gold, who has wacky adventures with a stolen baby in a bag.  It's a real achievement when you can make a film like Tsotsi that gets right in your face with genuine, true poverty, but doesn't use it as an excuse to deliver a stomach punch.

It's even more remarkable that they showed so much patience with, and faith in, the Tsotsi character.  He's such a bastard for so long, and he continues to act like a bastard even when he's not trying to be one.  There are numerous spots throughout the movie where Tsotsi's goodness is in question; each of those moments is dragged out until the audience has no choice but to think "come on, when's he gonna do the right thing???"  And that's really the point of the film: you recognize the humanity in a little asshole like Tsotsi, because you can feel that even he has some redeeming value.

I'd like to talk about the thrilling conclusion, but I'd better not.  The path towards that conclusion is, in retrospect, one of my favorite parts of the film.  They didn't go the obvious route, and I think it makes what could have been a predictable turn of events into something much more poignant.  In a lot of ways, the ending makes the movie into much more of a morality lesson than it would have been otherwise.  It forces you to ask questions about your own values, about what you would have done in the characters' place.

Highly recommended.  In thinking about how good Tsotsi is, the film that comes to mind is City of God, which is on the short-short list of the best movies I've ever seen (and worth its own post someday).  Tsotsi isn't quite there, but it's close.  It's a perfect, perfect film.

Friday, September 01, 2006

This Whole "Silver Spring" Thing Might Work Out

The Birchmere, the one-of-a-kind picnic-style concert hall in Alexandria, is about to become two-of-a-kind, because they're building a second venue in Silver Spring, at the corner of Colesville and Fenton.  Their bookings tend to be in the Austin City Limits vein: mostly country, folk and bluegrass, with the occasional world act and the once-in-a-blue-moon modern rock band.  But always more upscale, more classy than the average concert venue.

This is a really cool development in the ongoing restoration of my current hometown.  To think, Silver Spring used to be a sewer dump.  Borders was "planning to move in" on and off for like 4-5 years before it actually happened.  We couldn't even get a frigign Borders.  Now people actually want to put in fun shit.  I mean, I could walk to a show!  Sure, I'm not exactly a Dar Williams or George Benson fan, but maybe I would have gone to see, say, Amadou and Mariam had they played in Silver Spring instead of in a Metro-free part of Alexandria.  Either way, this is exciting news.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Decembeuiyists: The Cuiyane Wife

Opening a small band up to a large audience is tricky. Finding the balance between maintaining one's artistry and reaching out to a specific demographic often results in failure on some level.

I've discussed this in the past, specifically regarding Death Cab For Cutie's Plans and Snow Patrol's Eyes Open. Neither album is a failure, but neither lives up to their bands' promise. Plans is a fine album, but it departs from Death Cab's rock background, instead aiming for the soft-pop audience that somehow connected Ben Gibbard to a soundtrack he was entirely uninvolved with (Garden State). Eyes Open, meanwhile, is okay, but more significantly it marks Snow Patrol's bid to become the official band of the now-defunct Dubba-Dubba-WB. Common to both is increased prominence for their lead singers' voices, as compared to the backing music; this works in neither case. There's an instinct to emphasize global components (words, the vocal hook) when that might not be the right decision. Point being that bands typically seem to seek fame by moving away from what put them in position to become famous.

On that front, I have good news. I was lucky enough to hear The Decemberists' major-label debut, The Crane Wife, recently. I cannot stop listening to it. It's their best work to date... from start to finish, a home run. (Oh, the sporting life.) Colin Meloy and company have taken their pretty, quaint, firmly-entrenched-in-a-niche sound and made something a) broad, b) consistent with previous Decemberists albums, and c) more focused than any of their other works. It's the kind of album a band makes at its absolute peak. It is all the things for The Decemberists that Plans and Eyes Open are not for Death Cab and Snow Patrol.

I'm genuinely stunned that they made this album, that they are the band that achieved the balancing act. Their bread-and-butter, to date, has been sea shanties and tragic period romances. The band has always served as a backup act to Meloy's vocabulary-soaked, letter-R-deficient tales of Barrow-boys, Chimbley Sweeps, and giant Whales. The music thus takes on a mood to match the lyrics, suggesting a band of traveling minstrels rather than a rock group. Her Majesty and Picaresque are perfect albums in their own way, but they are also exceedingly quirky, to the point where they almost demand an apology. I would never have guessed that they'd zip it up and make such promising music. Congrats to everyone in the band, as well as producer Chris Walla (who also produced S.A.C. whipping-boy Plans).

The key difference is that The Crane Wife seems to have a musical axe to grind. The primary objective is to showcase the band's musical ambitions and arrangement skills, not to showcase Meloy and his thesaurus. "The Perfect Crime #2" is a Steely Dan homage first, and a story of blackmail and double-crossing second. The allegorical tale of invasion, colonialism and rape in "The Island" takes a back seat to an impenetrable wall of prog-rock keyboards. On Picaresque, that wall would be made of accordions and bass viols, and Meloy's voice would have been more prominent in the mixing process. Instead, they appear to have taken up the torch for historically-themed folk-prog-rock from Jethro Tull. Having heard the finished product, it really, really works.

(Those two bands aren't very dissimilar, when you think about it. Especially when you examine their respective lyrical tones. Many people will assert that prog-rock was a departure for The Decemberists; those people should listen to Thick As A Brick and The Minstrel In The Gallery a few times before saying that stuff. The more I think about it, the more natural the progression feels.)

The other half of the equation, making the musical spotlight possible, is the restraint/focus that Meloy shows in his storytelling. He's one of the most gifted songwriters on the planet, but part of the risk involved with his earlier works is his penchant for indulgence. There is nothing as precious as "The Chimbley Sweep," as whimsical as "Billy Liar," or as alliterative and thesaurus-heavy as "Los Angeles, I'm Yours." (Which is a personal favorite of mine.) Some have commented that this is a sign of weakness as compared to Picaresque, but I think the opposite. I think it's a sign that after some experimentation, all of which was successful, they are forging a path that works.

But while The Crane Wife is somewhat of a departure, it's still a Decemberists album. It's not going to disappoint and perplex longtime fans of the bands (save they who bee Pirates, yarrrrrr). Their trademarks are still present... just not focal. And that's one of the marks of a great band... the ability to move in a new direction without abandoning what that made them famous to begin with.

In short, while it doesn't have the consensus-winning appeal of an album like Come On Feel The Illinoise!, it's a perfect example of a band taking its shot at stardom and knocking it out of the park. You have to appreciate these instances when they come up. So, hats off to The Decemberists. We'll celebrate again when I buy the album.

[Edited 7:04 for typos & rewording.]