Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Briefly Mentioned Albums

Apples In Stereo
New Magnetic Wonder
Rating: 21 interstitial tracks out of 24

I love, love, love this album.  I had never listened to them before, but they had my attention right away.  Instantly catchy, totally classic.  I've had so many different tracks stuck in my head at different times... "Skyway," "Sun Is Out," "Sunndal Song," "Can You Feel It?"... they've all had turns.

Modest Mouse
We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
Rating: 5 former Smiths guitarists out of 5

It's only been a couple weeks, and I already have no qualms calling it my favorite album of theirs.  Completely and utterly excellent.  Another band that is undeniably working at the height of its powers.  They've shed the meandering, wandering, spacious noodling of The Moon & Antarctica.  They've done away with cutesy experimentation of Good News For People Who Love Bad News.  And they've applied those lessons to a more accessible, focused work on We Were Dead.

Is it less challenging?  Perhaps, but not really.  In their case, it's a sign of maturity and craft more than a pre-meditated cash-grab... a refinement, not a dumbing down.  The result is their most consistent, most accomplished, and most rewarding album to date.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists
Living With The Living
Rating: 3 1/2 sin eaters out of 5

More of the same good stuff from Ted Leo.  Like The Roots, I'm starting to think we'll never hear him make a bad album.  Perhaps that's because he rarely needs to depart from what's done him well in the past... or perhaps it's because he knows those rascally Pharmacists will beat the shit out of him if he does.  (No, not really.)

The thing is, even though the new album is structured like his masterworks (Hearts of Oak, The Tyranny of Distance), its songs lack the urgency of those previous albums.  But on the other hand, where Shake the Sheets is instantly accessible and lovable, Living with the Living also fails the test.  Living is neither a "grower" nor immediate.  What songs really stand out and distinguish it amongst Leo's prior accomplishments?

I don't mean it as a slight against the album itself, because it's still good stuff.    I recognize he's got a tough act to follow.  But it isn't really up to par with the unbelievably good stuff that preceded it.  It boils down to this: if I want to hear Ted Leo, why would I choose to pop in Living with the Living over Hearts of Oak?

You Can't Spell "Film" Without An F

Today while digging into Scorcese's filmography on Wikipedia, I stumbled across a comprehensive list of the movies that use the word "fuck" with the greatest frequency, complete with "fucks per minute" calculations.  Very, very entertaining list.

I was surprised to learn not only that Glengarry Glen Ross' 138 F-Bombs barely ranked, but that several films I have seen (Narc, GoodFellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski) exceeded Glengarry by a gargantuan margin.  I'm not all that surprised now that I know, but I always considered Glengarry to be the king of the F-Bomb genre.  And yet... I mean, it lost out to Four Rooms, for fuck's sake, both on the aggregate and the average.  What kind of random shit is that?

Also of note is that another celebratedly vulgar tale, Sexy Beast, is in the same general area as Glengarry... only 115 fucks over 89 minutes.  Of course, that doesn't account for the word "cunt."  That's a list on which Sexy Beast would be one of the runaway leaders.  Doesn't one C-bomb equal, like, six F-bombs?

Quick Oscar Thoughts

* On the whole, it was a very strange show.  Ellen DeGeneres was good, but rarely more than that.  The lack of gravity was the bigger problem though.  People were sticking their Oscars on the floor, getting run off the stage, nearly every winner read from a list... none of those things in isolation would be so odd, but the complete disregard for the importance of the ceremony seemed lost on everyone.  It didn't help that the only real event of the evening (Martin Scorcese's criminally long-overdue Oscar) came four hours into the ceremony.

* The exclusion of Pan's Labyrinth from the major awards will go down as a major failure.  This year may be for Del Toro what Taxi Driver's Oscar loss was for Scorcese, or what Brazil's complete non-acknowledgement was for Terry Gilliam.

* It was great that Scorcese won, but as with so many other make-up calls by the Academy (Russell Crowe for Gladiator?!?) it doesn't undo the past injustice of having lost for Raging Bull and GoodFellas.  How does our greatest living director not win for the best films of his career?  The Departed is up there with GoodFellas as his most entertaining, but my scorecard says Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, and even Bringing Out The Dead are better movies, and all are more of the Scorcese oeuvre than The Departed.  Guns plus gangsters does not equal Scorcese.

* Alan Arkin?  Really?  That makes very little sense.  He was great in Little Miss Sunshine and all, but no better than the rest of the cast.  I have a hard time believing that the performance I saw was a) lovable primarily due to Arkin's work and b) better than Eddie Murphy in the still-unseen-by-me Dreamgirls.  I make that estimate based solely on having seen Arkin.  How was this different than, say, Slums of Beverly Hills?  Hell, I thought he did a better job in So I Married An Axe Murderer than he did in Little Miss Sunshine.

* I now have a strong, strong urge to see The Lives Of Others.  If it's really better than Pan's Labyrinth, then I am obligated to find out, because I am extremely suspicious.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hey, You've Got To Hide Your Files Away

Last night, my hard drive died. I got memory I/O errors that prevented Windows from starting up. Worse, I didn't have any backups, so all my files were gone. That happened sometime yesterday afternoon.

Luckily, I was able to rescue my files from the grave. I followed the directions I made a Linux CD at work, booted the computer with that, and hoped that my files were buried under the wreckage, much like the two firefighters in World Trade Center. Indeed, they were, with hands raised up through the rubble in dramatic fashion. So all my stuff is now safely zipped up and burnt to a CD, and I'm on the road to recovery. (And Linux.)

But it could have just as easily gone the other way. Then I would have lost everything, and nobody would ever have seen this photo again:

Act fast, ladies, because he's about to get married.

Aaaaanyway, just as people whose apartments burn down will urge you to get renter's insurance, I urge you to back up anything you can't afford to lose. Nothing complicated... just keep all your critical files in one place, and periodically copy that place to a CD, DVD or USB drive.

It only takes a few minutes to do, but believe me when I tell you it will save you all kinds of grief. And when your drive dies its cowardly, pants-crapping death, you won't be harmed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

They Had Me At "Ow, My Balls"

Survey Says: 4 out of 5 aching, battered, and bruised balls

The criminal mishandling of Idiocracy by Fox has been fairly well-documented. The studio gave the tiny, corporation-bashing film a non-existent release, dumping it in six American cities (excluding every major East Coast city north of The ATL) and effectively turning this movie into a curiosity. Whereas there was relative awareness of its predecessor, Office Space, which had a this-is-what-your-job-is-really-like hook that could survive a box-office drubbing on video, Idiocracy has been rendered entirely anonymous.

Given that what reviews were written presented a mixed view, I thought maybe Fox was right. Maybe it was bad enough that they refused to take an obvious risk. After all, Fox must know its business better than I do, right?



Idiocracy was hilarious. Just totally, totally hilarious. I was dying of laughter before the movie even started, just because of the Ow, My Balls!-themed DVD menu. Was it a great movie? Hardly. But it's funny enough that it makes up for it.

(Short digression: much as the point of Ow, My Balls! was to show how little it takes to amuse stupid people, if Ow, My Balls! were a real show, I'd watch it. Absofuckinglutely. It meets a need that I daresay America hasn't yet found the solution for: long-form testicular pain. Sure, viral video precursor America's Funniest Home Videos turned it into a fad, but I'm talking about a full 30-minute situation comedy, where the situation is one guy getting kicked in the balls over and over again. Jules Verne predicted the submarine; let's hope Mike Judge predicts Ow, My Balls!.)

Anyway, if we can put dick and fart jokes aside for a moment, Idiocracy is equally successful as social commentary. It's not a complete thought on the premise (since it's still a comedy) but it squeezes out plenty of jokes. It's just as brave and biting as Office Space, and with bigger fish to fry. Plus, while you're getting your Swiftian satire on, you'll laugh your ass off.

Monday, February 12, 2007

More Worthy Tunes

Peter, Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
Solid. They have a laid-back vibe about them, despite being a standard three-piece rock group. "Young Folks" is the clear standout on the album, but the rest is pretty good too.

Brendan Benson - The Alternative To Love
Throwback! This album would have been a huge hit back in the Matthew Sweet era. It's too bad that it feels so uncool and unhip right now, because it's really good.

Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
I go back and forth on this. When I first listened to it, I flipped out. The singles ("Atlantis to Interzone," "Gravity's Rainbow", "Golden Skans") are awfully good. But they also don't have a whole lot of depth. I get a flavor-of-the-month vibe from them, like they're just this year's version of Arctic Monkeys or something. (That's far too harsh an insult, but the UK hype machine seems to be out in full force.) Definitely worth a listen either way, but I wonder how much staying power they have.

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
It's the goods. The extent to which it's good is unclear, but it certainly lives up to expectations. It's refreshing to hear the band do its thing without operating under the specter of the deaths that inspired Funeral. As classic as its predecessor? Probably not, but at least we know they're not a one-hit wonder.

Justice vs. Simian - We Are Your Friends (single)
I almost never consume music in single tracks (since I only rarely listen to the radio) but this is so catchy I can't help it. Found it here on a Top 50 Videos countdown. (YouTube link here.) This tune is friggin awesome.

A Weekend In The City

[UPDATE: Apparently I never used the phrase Bloc Party in the original post. D'oh! And that's why bloggers aren't taken seriously. Well, amongst other reasons. There's the lack of impartiality... overly enthusiastic and reactionary reviews... an affinity for gerunds and immature discourse... hmm, this is a pretty long list. OK, so aside from all those reasons, and about a hundred others that I can't think of right now, the absence of Bloc Party's name in my post is the main reason why blogs aren't taken seriously.

Anyway, I added a bunch more structural stuff, in the name of pleasing one important subset of my readership. And a picture.]

Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
RATING: 4 possibly gay black lead singers out of 5

I had a hard time figuring out where this one should land. It's an excellent album, but given the album that precedes it (the instant-classic Silent Alarm) it's impossible to evaluate in isolation.

For all that Silent Alarm sounds good, its starkness muffles the band's energy and leaves rock-out potential on the table. They have more fire than anybody, and it doesn't come across as well as it could have on Silent Alarm. Further, their change-of-pace tracks ("Blue Light," the closing two tracks) are clearly inferior to the album's faster-paced lead tracks ("Helicopter," "Banquet"). On the whole, it's an uneven, imperfect album.

Not so with Weekend. The momentum they build in each track explodes like it's supposed to, finally showing the band in its natural, maxed-out state. "Uniform" is a prime example; that track needed to explode for it to work, and it wouldn't have on Silent Alarm. And where their earlier downtempo work comes off as boring, their slower tracks here ("On" being a standout example) prove to nobody's surprise that they can do more than just floor it. In that sense, Weekend is superior.

On the other hand, they suffer from the every-song-is-the-same syndrome. "The Prayer," "I Still Remember," and "Hunting For Witches" are the only songs that don't open with a calm vocal, add drums and a riff, and climax with an emoish chorus. Nearly every track works this way. This structure doesn't exist on Silent Alarm anywhere besides "This Modern Love," where it works so well primarily because it's idiosyncratic with respect to "Helicopter," "Banquet" et al. Here, so many tracks follow the formula that the subpar tunes of the bunch ("Kreuzberg," for example) are almost entirely forgettable. They have juice, but they fall short of the mark.

Not only that, but the power doesn't feel as organic as Silent Alarm's does. The songs all start... out... soft... and... thentheyGETREALLYLOUD!!!! While the production upgrade was sorely needed, as I pointed out earlier, I also can't criticize anyone who thinks Weekend is inferior because it's over-produced. It's a fair enough point, although I believe the inconsistency of the songwriting is at fault more than the production.

Further, I doubt "I Still Remember" would be as effective as it is without that production. What a perfect song... far and away their best work to date. The hook is so memorable and evocative, so classic, that you can't help but get suckered in. The subject matter (unrequited love between schoolboys) is extremely rare in what is fast becoming the mainstream of rock. While I stand in awe that Kele Okereke has the balls to put homosexual lyrics into the band's most instantly accessible pop song, the sincerity of his words are what makes "I Still Remember" work so well: the marriage of content to hook.

Anyway, I don't know that the superior/inferior argument can be resolved. It all comes down to taste. If I had to pick one, I'd still probably pick Silent Alarm. But there's so much to love about A Weekend In The City that it doesn't deserve to be considered a second fiddle. It's brilliant, well-executed, and a major leap towards prominence and legitimate stardom. They may be able to do better, but this album also removes any doubt that they will.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Late-Adopter Club Returns

A few celebrated albums from the past year that I only got around to recently...

Band of Horses - Everything All The Time
I didn't think too much of this at first.  I've always liked "The Funeral," which is a great song, but the rest of the album put me to sleep.  It's tough for down-tempo rock to get my attention.  But after closer inspection, I think it's just the initial track ("The First Song") that bores me.  I liked the guitar arrangements a lot, something I missed when not listening to the album in the proper environment (read: loud).  So apparently my negative reaction was a matter of sound fidelity.  Who knew?  Anyway, they're the real deal.

Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
I heard one song off this album a while back and liked it, but never listened to the album.  It's good stuff.  Not exactly original... she's working in the same general area that Tori Amos, Sarah MacLachlan, Fiona Apple and others have worked for years, though she's been labeled otherwise ("piano folk").  But she definitely stacks up.  She's got a light, sweet, simple touch that just plain works.  And her take on the pixie/fairy voice is so much better than Joanna Newsom's, it's not funny.  At the very least, she's earned an invitation to the International Piano-Babe Conference.

Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
I've now listened to a few of their albums (this, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out) after having never heard them before.  I'd put them in the same class as Stereolab, where I appreciate them and have a feel for them, but they aren't a big deal to me on a personal level.  Regardless, I sure like the opening track on I Am Not Afraid.  Good stuff.  I'm still chewing on this one though (80 minutes per album is an awful lot to handle).

Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
Lo and behold, everyone was completely right about this.  It's so good.  "The Champ" is perfect.  Anyone person who chooses that song as his or her personal theme music would hear no complaint from me.  Nothing much more to say about it... except that I love onions on my steak.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I would love to discuss the bomb threat at the length it deserves.  Unfortunately, the process of rebutting the Boston media and the mentally-handicapped elected officials from Massachusetts has left me literally shaking with rage.  Today, I am ashamed to come from Boston.  Since it may never see the light of day, here's the short version.  (Yes, this is the short version.)

The advertising campaign (not a hoax, which implies intent to fool, of which there is none) was brilliant.  Not irresponsible, not asinine, not even remotely in questionable taste... just ingenious.  And really, really funny.

The reaction from the city, and the seriousness with which the situation was treated, is as close to real-life satire as you can get.  The outrage exhibited by local media types and politicians has been laughable.  Their hideous attempts to insist that this is unfunny only makes the whole fiasco that much funnier.  Any more of this petty, shameful grandstanding from Gov. Deval Patrick, Rep. Ed Markey and Mayor Mumbles Menino and I might have an asthma attack from laughing so hard in their idiot faces.

Here's where it stops being funny: two guys are sitting in jail right now, because nobody gets the joke.

Aside from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is the most disgusting thing that has ever happened in the name of 9/11.  Some poor bastards posted ADVERTISEMENTS that were misinterpreted by the police... "misinterpreted" meaning THE POLICE WERE WRONG!!!!!!!!... and the guys who put up the signs get put in jail!  For no legitimate reason beyond petty revenge and politically-driven outrage.  As Jim Ross would say, that is just sick.

Not one person has come forward and acknowledged what I consider to be the truth of the situation: that nobody is at fault, and that nothing should have happened any differently than it did.  Everyone's too busy trying to blame someone.  Meanwhile, the poor guys who posted the signs are locked up because Mumbles Menino has a hair across his ass.  Shame on him.  And shame on the rest of the government for not even acknowledging their own role in this mess.  And people wonder why young people don't show an interest in politics!

Here's another interesting thing: haven't we Dazzling Urbanites been trained to expect this sort of thing from back-woods country towns?  Ol' Herm sees a suspicious DHL package and calls in the sheriff, yelling "It's the Al Qaedas!!!"  So the sheriff locks up the delivery guy the next day, until they open the package and find a bunch of ladies' undergarments meant for the town schoolteacher.  And we coastal folks would laugh and laugh... "oh those backwards redneck hicks, aren't they foolish" and so forth.  Well, not so fast, because that's pretty much what happened yesterday in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Athens of America.  One of our country's most sophisticated and intellectual cities.  That's a touchdown for Rural America, my friends, and the PAT is good.  Rurals 7, Boston 0.

I would love to link to the stories that have so infuriated me.  I'd love to show you the picture of the two "defendants" laughing in court.  I'd love to illustrate the deeply sickening bias in the media's portrayal of this entire story, from bigwig traditional media like the Globe and the Herald to wannabe-reputable blogs like Bostonist.  But linking to these sites would only help them perpetuate their view of the story, a view that I consider to be not just wrong but far more irresponsible in nature than anything the Turner people have been accused of.  Besides, I don't want anyone else to get pissed off... nobody should ever be as livid as I am right now.

More later, if I get my shit together.