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.

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.

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.

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


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.