Thursday, December 27, 2007

Way Down In The Hole

The Wire Season 5 arrives in just ten days. And then the clock starts ticking on the greatest, best, most important television show ever made.

In the meantime, here's a few ways to get excited.

* Watch the prequels. Cute.

* Yet another extensive David Simon interview, this one from a year ago. But it's got some great details in there. I'm constantly amazed that Simon gives such detailed interviews. Details are the trick. Someone can read 50 interviews with Brad Pitt hoping for that one detail to drop, but Simon consistently delivers the goods. The message is always the same in each 80-page conversation you read, but there's always something new.

* Kottke pointed out Heaven and Here, a fantastically erudite blog on the show and its meanings.

The first episode premieres Sunday... which means I should have it in my On Demand folder on Monday. I cannot wait.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heima Gonna Beat Yo Ass

Just saw the Sigur Rós concert documentary Heima, screened in full HD in a crowded theater. I'm glad I did, because now I can't imagine having seen it just on my little 32" TV. It was really something. I can't promise that non-fans will be entertained... but I can promise you'll see some jaw-dropping shit.

I want to declare that the bar has been raised, but it doesn't seem fair. It's not a traditional concert film / band documentary, in that there's very little storytelling about the band, or even the band with respect to their homeland. You don't get the usual "mugging for the camera" goofiness or "hey look we filmed an argument" drama. Instead, you really just get Iceland, the whole Iceland, and nothing but Iceland... with a special appearance by Sigur Rós. It was reminiscent of a nature documentary like Planet Earth or something more than a concert film.

But to be clear, that's a good thing. The photography alone makes Heima worth seeing on a big screen. I can't remember ever seeing real life shot and reproduced on screen so faithfully. There is no stylistic anything, no unnatural lighting, no manipulation. It looks exactly like it would look if you were standing there.

The concert footage is so calm and focused that you don't need any extra face time to get a feel for what the band is like. Without the classic MTV-style jump cuts and flashes, you can just sink in and watch them operate.

Oddly, the music wasn't even all that big a deal to me. I mean, it was awesome. "Glósóli" and "Hoppipolla" and "Popplagið" are always going to be showstoppers. And the quieter songs like "Heysatan" and "Staralfur" were arresting in their own way. But I was so mesmerized by the Icelandic countryside that anytime we were back with the band, I wanted to get back to nature.

So, I loved it. If this comes out on a high-def DVD format, it'll be on the short list for early purchases.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Best Albums Of 2007

In a world... where art is enumerated...

In a place... that only exists in your computer...

In a time... when bloggers lay claim to that which is not theirs...

One man... will pretend he knows something.

... the Dunkin Donuts guy.

Well... I was hoping to discuss Time To Make The Donuts, my biopic about Fred the Baker. However, those prick Weinstein brothers refuse to release it without first cutting it to shreds in an attempt to make it more "commercial." So I can't. Let's talk about music instead.

I couldn't just make a quick list and leave it at that. Having blogged so inconsistently means that I haven't really gone on the record concerning most of the music I liked. So I've got a big one brewing. And this isn't even the end... I've got a Best Songs post on deck after this.

First things last:

* I've included videos where possible, and mp3s only in one particularly critical case.

* Seems I didn't hear much hip-hop this year. My iTunes playlist for 2007 only shows four artists: Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Common, and Blue Scholars. (All recommended.) Haven't heard the new Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah or Wu-Tang either. I'm basically calling a mulligan on hip-hop this year. Just go here for some expertise, cause I got none.

* The Pitchfork mind-meld procedure is surprisingly gentle. But they do go in through the rectum.

OK... let's chug some Haterade and Red Balls so we can get things going.

The Very Worst
(or "How To Tell What The Good Parts Of The List Won't Sound Like")

Animal Collective
- Strawberry Jam
I suppose this pegs me as someone who just doesn't get them. Maybe I'll eventually come around, or have some big epiphany. But until then, I will wear my ignorance like a goddamn badge, because all I hear is the sound of two computers blowing each other.

Deerhoof - Friend Opportunity
Absolute garbage. Congratulations, Deerhoof, you recorded the sound of three amateurs taking dumps on their instruments. The result is the musical equivalent of 2 Girls, 1 Cup. Enjoy your status as the torchbearers for the musical genius of Yoko Ono. Your music makes me feel bad for having given you a chance. Thank you. Thank you right to hell. You win the coveted Clap Your Hands Say Yeah award: worst album of the year.

Grizzly Bear - Friend EP
First guy to kick these fuckers in the nuts gets a cookie. I don't want these dopes having kids. I can't imagine, like, six pre-teen Grizzly Bear cover bands running around and ruining everyone else's lives.

[mercifully no video]

Menomena - Friend And Foe
Man... if you put the word "Friend" in your album, you apparently suck balls. With friends like these, shoot yourself.

Panda Bear - Person Pitch
I don't understand this at all. This guy's a sound editor, not a musician. He's just messing around. That's fine, but I could give a shit. Making matters worse, this is his solo project spent while away from his band: Animal Collective. Way to go, Noah, you made two of the most unlistenable turds of the year.

The Album I May Eventually Regret Not Liking

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover
Here's the thing. I love Wolf Parade, and I love what Spencer Krug brings to the table. And yet I loathe Sunset Rubdown, and not just because it keeps Krug away from Wolf Parade. I should like it. But I find it boring and uninteresting. Maybe this will change. But last year's entry in this space (Joanna Newsom's Ys) hasn't gotten any better. So maybe not.

Brilliant Folks What Dropped The Ball With Their Followups

Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
It's not bad. I kinda like "Soul Singer In A Session Band" for some reason. But it's hard to believe this is the same guy who could have used some restraint on Lifted. The video has more to say than Conor Oberst does on the entire album. Let's all hope he gets it back together before he kills himself.

Editors - An End Has A Start
There's a few likable songs on here, but the record as a whole is a far cry from The Back Room. All the energy and verve of "Munich" and "Fingers In The Factories" got scaled back. I liked them better when they were repurposing Interpol's sound instead of Snow Patrol's.

Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors [embedding disabled... fuckers]

Interpol - Our Love To Admire
Speak of the devil. Antics and Turn On The Bright Lights have grown on me, but Our Love isn't doing anything that those albums don't do a lot better. Nobody's gonna go ripping off this one.

Jimmy Eat World - Chase This Light
Most disappointing album of the year. Looks like they're out of songs. The underrated Stay On My Side Tonight EP suggested that they still had their Clarity-era fastball, but this is mostly just the same old crap from a band that should know better. "Big Casino" is the catchiest tune they've got, and it's really better served as like the 4th or 5th track on an album of better, stronger songs.

Big Casino

Likable, And Really Good... But Getting Way Too Much Love

- Untrue
The Field
- Here We Go Sublime
I'm no expert here. Both are worthy of inclusion in my own personal techno pantheon, which is quite small. But I can't honestly rank them. They're both albums I wouldn't hesitate to play or recommend, but best of the year? Not for me.

[no video]

Justice -
The trendy dance/techno pick, universally hailed and revered despite its mediocre, momentum-killing center of "Valentine" and "The Party." I'm not feeling the universal love for "D.A.N.C.E.," either. Great song, great video, really derivative. Maybe I just feel spoiled by "We Are Your Friends," which is better by a wide margin than any track on . Who knows. But I can safely say that this is not a great album, and definitely not as great as it's considered by the criterati.

Kanye West - Graduation
I'll repeat my complaint about Late Registration: he's as earnest as anyone's ever been in the same position, but I still can't get past what a rapper with some actual tricks up his sleeve would have done with the same beats. Also, four words: "Drunk And Hot Girls." Oh Mos Def, why hast thou forsaken us?

Three Albums Worth A Shout-Out

Blue Scholars - Bayani
The Budos Band - The Budos Band II
Holy Fuck - LP

Partial Credit: Stuff I Might Have Ranked If I'd Heard Them Sooner

Bonde do Rolê
- With Lasers
The Real Tuesday Weld - The London Book Of The Dead
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Pela - Anytown Graffiti
Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

Stop Me Before I Release Another EP

Tokyo Police Club
- Smith, Your English Is Good
I'm amazed that they've basically written, like, two or three songs so far... played those same three songs about a dozen ways across their various EPs and singles... and every single song still feels unique and fresh. They've certainly got no shortage of ideas. I hope to Jesus their full-length is as good as their EPs have been.

[No time for videos! Get your Canadian asses in the studio!]

Noteworthy Runners-Up

Art Brut - It's A Bit Complicated
Likable. I'd have put it in the "disappointments" list up top, but they had such an impossible task... and Complicated is actually a fair follow-up anyway. I prefer Eddie Argos when he's turning a song genre inside out ("Good Weekend," "Rusted Guns of Milan") or being flat-out ridiculous ("18,000 Lira"... sounds like a lot of money) than when he's yapping about girls and lying around in bed... who wouldn't prefer the old Eddie Argos? But if this is what Art Brut has to be from now on, it's a happy little medium.

Band of Horses
- Cease To Begin
Everything All The Time is kinda dry and boring, "The Funeral" excepted. The meatier, thicker sound on Cease To Begin does them a lot of favors. "Is There A Ghost" and "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" are big improvements sound-wise on everything on Everything.

Feist - The Reminder
It falls where Neko Case fell for me last year. Highly recommended, frequently enjoyed, but not something I connected with. Not much going on beneath the veneer of the music, either... it's really just underproduced crooning. But still good.

Jose Gonzalez - In Our Nature
Yes, folks, it's yet another finger-style folk-rocking Latin Swede! When will someone come up with an original angle??? So yeah, he's incredible. Every Nick Drake comparison is a well-earned compliment, but Gonzalez has a cool, pulsing, slightly sinister calm that is decidedly unlike Drake's joyous, colorful devastation.

Klaxons - Myths of the Near Future
I wanted to love this more than I do, because there are some seriously awesome songs on here ("Atlantis to Interzone," "Golden Skans," "Gravity's Rainbow"). But the rest is lazy, unmemorable, disposable, and sometimes embarrassing. ("18:30 on the Julius Caesar / Lady Diana and Mother Teresa"? Huh? Mercury Prize my dong.) "Hook + Nonsense" works as a formula, but when the hook doesn't work, they're shit out of luck.

Talib Kweli - Eardrum
A case where stepping backwards puts you in the right direction. The beats on The Beautiful Struggle didn't have much bite; Eardrum's got bite to burn. Feels like a slicker version of Reflection Eternal, which is a good thing.

Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala
Ingenious stuff. He does it all... humor, insight, sweetness, self-reference, pith, you name it. He's really nailed this lilting-English, postmodern Burt Bachrach act he's got. But if I don't listen to Bachrach, why would I listen to Lekman? I tip my cap, but this sort of thing ain't my bag, baby.

(Nothing suitable on YouToogleGube, but go here and download "Your Arms Around Me." Then come back and thank me. I like being thanked.)

Noisettes - What's The Time, Mr. Wolf?
That quality that allows you to simply say someone "rocks"? They have it. Decidedly different and unique. Enjoyed the shit out of them in person, and the album's just as strong. "Sister Rosetta" is one of my favorites of the year.

[Sister Rosetta (Capture The Spirit)... ironically, this video doesn't capture their spirit at all]

Simian Mobile Disco - Attack Decay Sustain Release
Awesome, straightforward electronica. More front-to-back consistent than most techno debuts. And any excuse to show the "Hustler" boner-fest in polite company is good enough for me!

The Twilight Sad
- Fourteen Winters And Fifteen Autumns
Their spacey, meandering, and ultimately explosive sound is good and all, but it's all held together by their singer's northern English accent. Seriously. The accent really bangs home the iconic lyrics, especially in the opening track.

[no video]

#15-11: Kings Of The Losers

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
A worthy successor to Funeral, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that they're here to stay. Clearly they were working on the organ sounds, with much patience. No "buts" are coming, either... I just don't feel like putting it on my best-of list. I don't think I can displace any album on the forthcoming list with Neon Bible. (Bonus: watch them play the title track in an elevator... living it up while they're going down!)

Battles - Mirrored
The last album to fall from the list, after several flip-flops. Best sounding album of the year... the clearest, cleanest rock recording I've heard in a long time. And the drumming is absolutely nuts. But I ultimately docked this one a few points for losing me toward the end of the record. 1-5... best album of the year. After that, it's just studio wizardry. But all the praise they've received elsewhere is totally warranted and earned. Behold the genius that is "Tonto."

The Go! Team
- Proof of Youth
Doesn't have the freshness of Thunder, Lightning, Strike, but it has its fair share of winners. Anything with the wrath of either Marcie or Mikey involved can't be all bad. Note how perfectly their "Doing It Right" video translates the band's grainy, lo-fi, Schoolhouse Rock sound into visuals:

Stars - In The Bedroom After The War
Just a solid, reliable, straight-ahead pop album. Thoroughly enjoyable, and unremarkable in a good way. It's comforting to know that someone's out there playing plain old well-made pop.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists - Living With The Living
I really wanted to show Ted more love. It stands up to his best work, growing on me the more I listen to it. "Sons of Cain" kicks all kinds of ass. But the few missteps he makes (e.g. "The Unwanted Things" and its phony-baloney reggae) really stand out... and not in an endearing way, like "Bottle of Buckie" or "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb." In a skip-me-every-time way. When you're a punk-pop trio, your margin for error is pretty thin when it comes to genre experiments, and those here didn't work.

#10-1: The Top Ten

We start out with a huge upset:

10. Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
I usually hate shrill music like this. Until about a month ago, I was going to award them the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah award for overrated, intolerable trash. Then two things happened: 1) I remembered that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah actually put out an album themselves, and 2) I revisited Hissing Fauna and lost my shit. They went from the Worst List to the Top 10. Bravo, gentlemen Kevin Barnes.

This Brothers Chaps-directed video for "Heimdalsgate," one of the most randomly bizarre videos I've ever seen, had a lot to do with the turnaround.

9. Radiohead - In Rainbows
This album needs a slap. The universal acclaim MUST be given a rest. It's good... it's not that good. It's not even amongst their best work! How can it be on the top of so many lists?

Something tells me the backstory with their self-release, and the ensuing media feeding frenzy, played a huge role in the album's toasty reception. After all, what really sells music to nerds is the backstory. All their parents and friends like totally died n' stuff, and that's why they called it "Funeral!" I'm gonna go blog about these guys! And so forth.

Bottom line for me... a great album from a great band, one that lived up to my expectations. And that's about it.

8. Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City
This one bounces around all over the place... it's gone from my top 3, to out of the top 10 entirely, to back in. It's been sliding around like soap in a prison shower. I slotted it above In Rainbows at the last second. But what am I supposed to do? It's both a bitter disappointment and an explosive success at the same time.

I'm still torn. It's one of the performances of the year. It follows through on its quasi-concept-album ambitions, and constitutes a leap forward for the band both musically and lyrically. But this isn't the "top 10 performances" list. The filler between classics like "Hunting For Witches" and "I Still Remember" isn't really memorable. Likable enough, but those weaker songs are mostly unworthy of the band. It's hard not to wish they'd done more. How high can you rank an album like that? And then I listen to "I Still Remember" again, and I (ha) remember what I love so much about it. My brain will explode if I consider moving it up or down the list again, so I'm leaving it right here.

7. The National - Boxer
It took many, many listens for me to upgrade it from "good ambient rock for those at-work moments" to "I might actually choose to give this some undivided attention." Nothing on Boxer comes close to the highlights of 2005's Alligator ("Abel," "Mr. November") but it's still an deep, accomplished album. There's more going on than meets the ear on the first listen... maybe not as much as the band's most ardent fans and defenders think, but more than you'd get on a single quick listen. It is the very model of a "grower."

6. !!! - Myth Takes
I was a bit too hard on Nic Offer in my initial review, for which I've since apologized. I didn't give him adequate credit for having scaled back the not-as-clever-as-he-thinks lyrics. There are groan-inducing moments (most of "Must Be The Moon," and the previously-deconstructed "Sweet Life") but Myth Takes still contains his best work. And that's before getting to the music, which is a gigantic step forward, a refinement and expansion of the sound they created on !!! and Louden Up Now. Great stuff.

5. The New Pornographers - Challengers
With every listen, the spreading of wings doesn't feel nearly as drastic as it did the first few times around. Apart from the more-obvious-than-ever comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, the band comes through with its deepest and thickest work yet. Each song on Challengers could have been re-arranged to work in the band's typical sugary mode, but none of them would have been quite right. In fact, the more familiar songs of theirs feel out of place. (Not that they're unwelcome.) Regardless, the changes are a success.

(another non-representative video, but at least this one has a bunch of Neko)

4. Apples in Stereo - New Magnetic Wonder
My #1 on the Irrational Love charts. All of the proper songs are catchy as all hell; it's a hit-or-miss proposition without any misses. And the production is just over-the-top insane; it plays like Robert Schneider's resume for working with other bands. If I have a beef, it's that the interstitial amuse bouche interludes are kinda distracting. My track-skipping finger gets itchy when they come up. However, as was the case with Sufjan Stevens' Come On Feel The Illinoise!, the little nuggets become less of a distraction with each listen. And they give the album some structure.

(the "Can You Feel It" video doesn't do them any favors)

3. Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank
The blew-me-away rock-out album of the year. It's a shame that people thought it was a step back, because it's a phenomenally accomplished rock album. They took the sound they perfected on Good News and used that power to rock our collective balls off. If I had a band, I'd want to knock people's cremaster muscles backwards too, turning men into women and women into men with the immovable force of my rock. That's not quite what Modest Mouse did to me, but it's pretty obvious that gender reversal is what they were after. (Huh? Nautical theme? I don't see that at all. Nope, it's clearly about sex changes.)

2. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I'm amazed that they can keep churning out music this good, while making it seem so simple and effortless. It's not like their songs are complicated. But somehow they just have a feel for what's classic and timeless without being unoriginal. "The Underdog" may be reminiscent of Billy Joel, and "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" may but it's still their own. Who out there is trying to be classic? They're a truly gifted band.

(To find out what the big deal is with the robot, watch him shake his grant-money-maker to Gimme Fiction's "I Turn My Camera On")

1. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
Perfect. Brilliant dance-pop from start to finish, with nary a stinker on the entire record. The only song you can nitpick is album closer "New York I Love You," but I choose not to. Everything else... just perfect. Not much else to say.

Phew... I've just about had it. If I missed anything, let me know down below. And look for my list of best songs in the near future.

(P.S. If you read all of the 3,325 words that preceded this, you get another cookie. And don't forget how you can get that first one. Get out there and kick Grizzly Bear in the balls, soldier!!!)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Damn You, Walt Whitman!

This link has nothing to do with the poem, but any excuse to make the following statement is a good one:



Monday, December 03, 2007

Katherine Heigl Also Thinks "Knocked Up" Sucks

When I first saw Knocked Up and got really bullshit about it, I thought I'd be in the minority about it.  Turns out that doesn't seem to be the case; most conversations I have about the movie naturally turn towards the story being implausible and stupid.  At first, I suspected my objections were a result of my mood as much as anything; I'm relieved to know I'm not alone in wondering what the hell was going on here.

Now comes even more objections... except these objections come from someone who was actually in the movie.

"[Knocked Up was] a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I'm playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.

I do join the A.V. Club blogger in wondering exactly how little responsibility Katherine Heigl thinks she had for the "killjoy" portrayal.  And I'm definitely on board with Knocked Up, warts and all, being brave enough to not shy away from showing women acting like uncontrollable, wrongheaded nutbags.  God knows, it actually does happen every once in a while, so Judd Apatow gets props for that.

But the proof is in the pudding.  I walked away from that movie rolling my eyes at the thought of Seth Rogen ever putting up with that woman's shit.  The end result is a nutbag woman doing nutbag woman things... and a director communicating empathy for it.  Puhleeze.

Strictly from a storytelling perspective, he's been given no good reason to stick with her.  And it's not from her character being one-dimensional; it was actually a very deep portrait of a stressed-out woman making mistakes.  That she is as much as fault as anyone allows Rogen's character to approach the final conflict without having to correct a cliched "stupid man mistake" like most romantic leads have to do.  That in turn allows us in the audience to concentrate on what Rogen will do, instead of wondering how he will correct an obvious mistake.  It frees the character to choose a path without being hindered by group notions of "right" and "wrong"... it's strictly a personal decision.  That's actually a nice touch.

If only it didn't lead to such a damn fool ending.  After two hours of plausibility, it sucks to see five minutes of utterly laughable bullshit undermine everything that preceded it.  Goddammit.  And now I'm pissed off all over again.  Why did a smart movie have to be so stupid?  Grrrr.

Anyway, I fully intend to see Knocked Up again in colder blood.  The depth of my disappointment suggests that further viewings are necessary.  After all, it was indeed a laugh-out-loud hilarious movie, and I want so badly to love it.  So I'll give it another chance.  I'm not likely to budge on the bottom line, but we'll see.


My love for the criminally unheralded film Idiocracy has been documented frequently around here. Me and, like, 12 other people like it a lot.

Naturally, then, those 12 people and I are the target audience for... get ready... Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator! Unless kottke and the Googletubes are lying to me again, someone is actually making Brawndo. It's got electrolytes!!!

This commercial actually does more to suggest it's a hoax than to promote the "product":

Fox took such a bath on Idiocracy that it'd be natural for them to license and monetize anything they could from the experience. I'm in favor of them making back as much money as they can, if only so that they might feel less discouraged from taking a similar risk in the future.

Or maybe they gave up the rights to Brawndo to one of the brand name conglomerates (Carl's Jr., Starbucks, Costco, American XXXpress) that Mike Judge hornswaggled, as a sign of corporate good-faith.

Or maybe it's a big fat fake. That seems more likely. But for now... pretty awesome.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Oi, I've Got The Death Sentence On Twelve Systems, Guvnah!

Star Wars is on HBO right now. They just showed the Mos Eisley cantina sequence. To spice things up this time, I muted the sound and instead sang the "Derka Derka" theme from Team America: World Police over the intro. It was AWESUMMMMMMM

After I'd had my fun, up came a sequence that has always bothered me: the assault of Luke by the fiendish, dastardly Dr. Cornelius Evazan.

What bothers me is the looped dialogue. The lines come nowhere near Dr. Evazan's lip movements. Even with the prosthetics obscuring the actor's lips, they can't even get close. The noticeable lack of sync led me to believe that the line was changed, not that the looping was poor.

So today I decided to ask the Googlewebs what the original line was. The answer lies in the video below, a montage of production footage from the shoot. There are many, many tasty nuggets to be savored (please do) but once you get to the 5:38 mark, you'll hear the original Dr. Evazan dialogue. Turns out the lines didn't get changed... but the actor's accent did.

Cockney! Sweet.

But having heard the original, I'm inspired to speak words that have never been spoken on the Internet until now: I agree with a George Lucas decision. (It's true. That sentence is a Googlenope. Or, at least, it was.)

Anyway, the accents are more earthy, and match the actors' motion much better, but they're also kinda distracting. The accents identify Dr. Evazan and the bartender as Brits (or Shakespeareans) much more than the dubbed accents do. Drawing attention to the dubbing is bad, but it probably would have been worse to draw a comparison between Mos Eisley denizens and lovable Dickensian rogues.

So yeah... nicely done, George Lucas. (Well, 1977 George Lucas. I qualified my praise! Take THAT!)