Monday, December 22, 2008

Best Albums Of 2008

Picking a best album from this crop was an unenviable task. I'm still not entirely happy with my selection, nobody else has much of an argument to make against it. Meanwhile, I ended up with too many contenders for worst album. That's what happens in a consensus down-year, I guess.

What better way to salute 2008 than to start at the ass end? In a bizarre fit of Christmas generosity, I have decided to rename the Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Award, only because it's really just the singer who drives me bonkers. So they are hereby rescued from the unbearable hell of some guy on the internet talking shit about them. For now.

So from now on my shit list has a new name:

The Grizzly Deerhoof Collective

Has a ring? No. Forced? Yes. Accurate? Also. Three irredeemably awful bands, coming together to form a Voltron-like musical Golgothan that would probably destroy humanity, just like that meteor destroyed the dinosaurs. And the less said about its parts, the better. Allow these piece of shit songs, if you dare, to speak for themselves:

God help you if you like any of that trash.

In order to stop myself from comparing the above bands to recent poops I've taken, here are this year's booby-prize winners:

No Age - Nouns

No talent, either. This is exactly the kind of non-music Pitchfork LOVES to insist is artistic progress, and not just two bozos making an "atmospheric" wall of noise and hoping some jackass works hard enough to derive some musical qualities from it. (To clarify, Pitchfork is the jackass in that situation, and No Age are the bozos.)

When I consider the untold numbers of talented folks who bust their asses to educate themselves about music history, work on their craft, and conceive something creative and unique to share... and then consider "experimental" garbage like No Age being touted by influential people... depressing.

Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing

This album sounds like shit tastes. What I said for No Age goes double for Fuck Buttons, which is clearly short for "Just Fucking Around With The Buttons On My Macbook." I saw these two dopes in person, and thought they were garbage. I checked out their album, thinking maybe they had a bad audio set up. They did not. It was even worse.

They set out upon the difficult tightrope-walk that is blips-and-bloops electronica, but they fall onto a group of tourists below. It's neither the composed brilliance of Burial nor the rollicking fun of likewise filthily-named Holy Fuck. Fuck Buttons is just a bunch of nothing. I hope they're enjoying acclaim while they have it, because their cunning attempt to trick us isn't going to go over twice.

The Walkmen - You & Me

Unlike the above, this just plain sucks. My irritation with The Walkmen is that they are emblematic of all the things I hate about "indie" rock: purposeful awfulness. The singer puts on this awful fake Dylan drawl, the songs are decidedly uncatchy, and the end result of each song is filtered needlessly through a tin can in order to make it impossible to hear, apparently. It's not visionary, it's not hard, it's not rough. It just sucks. There's only one good reason why you would purposely make your music impossible to hear: if it's utter shit.

The Murderer's Row of Disappointments

The Killers - Day & Age

Day & Age marks the end of The Killers as relevant artists. They are no longer ripping off quality musicians like Interpol and Bruce Springsteen... now they're ripping off Maroon 5, themselves a rip-off. We are clearly not getting another Hot Fuss, not unless there's an American Idiot-type return from the depths in their future. But I highly doubt that. The most damning thing I can say is that every time I try to listen to Day & Age from start to finish, I wonder why I shouldn't just put Hot Fuss on instead.

of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

Skeletal Lamping is the skillet-to-the-face imagery of Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, without any of its hooks, its focus, or its relentlessness. It has some great moments on it, notably "Id Engager," but the superlative, endearing pop ingredients from Fauna are gone. Kevin Barnes's urgency on Hissing Fauna, seen perfectly in the sublime "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse," is what drove that album to its heights, but it's unseen on Skeletal Lamping. Here, he's just wandering aimlessly up and down each track, no purpose or direction. There are flashes of brilliance here and there (the opening of "Nonpareil of Favor," or his alter ego Georgie Fruit's admonitions in "Wicked Wisdom") but "Id Engager" is the only song that really works in its entirety... and even then, not as much as any track on Hissing Fauna.

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

Not up to snuff by MMJ standards... none of the sinister undercurrent of their other, better work. It plays like an Allman Brothers ripoff more than anything. An example of a band escaping the indie ghetto and drawing new fans by going completely blah. I bet it's fine live, but it sure ain't that great in my apartment. Evil Urges is okay, but definitely not unnecessary. I'm guessing they will right the ship next time around.

Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell

After being teased by a pair of too-short EPs in two years, I expected their proper album to be longer than 27 minutes. Getting basically just another EP, one that is only sometimes brilliant at that, is not acceptable. Very disappointing, though not so much that I dislike it.

It isn't all bad. "Tesselate" and "In A Cave" and "Your English Is Good" stand up to their best. But it's sad to hear them finally record some filler tracks. Given the choice between getting Elephant Shell when we did and waiting for a proper LP, I would have waited. In fact, irony of ironies, I would have preferred to get Elephant Shell pared down to a six-song EP worthy of their talents.

Tapes n' Tapes - Walk It Off

After the superb "Hang Them All" started to make the rounds, my hopes got up. Not one other song approaches it. There are so many down-tempo, tiresome, blah songs that you wonder whether they indulged their "moody" side a bit too much. The beauty of The Loon, as with so many other lo-fi albums, was that they simply rocked out as best they could. "Hang Them All" was a step forward, but nearly everything else was a step back. (I will grant that album closer "The Dirty Dirty" ends things on a rollicking note that should have been more prevalent in the tracks preceding it.) Still, one of the bigger disappointments personally.

The Roots - Rising Down

They've drifted away from what they're good at in order to recover their street cred. Game Theory and Rising Down both attempt to make the band darker than they actually are. The great tracks on here ("Criminal" and "75 Bars" come to mind) are the tracks with no axes to grind, musically speaking. I just wish they'd go back to making the music they want to, instead of trying to be the cool kids on the corner.

Commuted Sentences

Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

It broke my heart to list this under disappointments, and it really did belong there, but I just couldn't. Still, this usually bombastic group deserves a slap on the wrists for turning in their smallest and least essential album since their debut, Von. Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust has its bright points up front, but the album drifts along into total boredom by the end. How can the band responsible for this turn in such a tepid record?

They've purposely sapped themselves of their power, their biggest asset by far, to make something more intimate, but I don't want that. The only song that kinda-sorta approaches the style of their previous successes, "Festival," in fact proves my point better than anything else: its structure mirrors "Untitled 8"/"Popplagið" and other Sigur Rós gems, but with no bite to the rock-out part at the end, it just doesn't work.

Their acoustic abilities were proven on Hvarf/Heim and the film Heima; dedicating yet another piece to the softer side was not necessary. The most powerful band on the planet should go back to being powerful.

Bloc Party - Intimacy

For a long time, I had them first in line for a beating. Intimacy should have been called Laziness, or Hurry, or something else that mirrors the amount of effort they put into it. But it's still Bloc Party, so ultimately it's still good.

However, subscribing to the slapdash recording methods that The White Stripes used so successfully for Get Behind Me Satan does not suit them nearly as well. They're probably as good as anyone has ever been when it comes to B-sides... so it's pretty disappointing to hear an album of C-sides. Even the best of Intimacy, "Halo" and "One Month Off" and "Talons," reminded me more of "Cavaliers and Roundheads," "The Once And Future King" or "Hero" than any track from Silent Alarm or A Weekend In The City.

All in all, the sloppiness plays as an apologetic reaction to the increase in composure evident on A Weekend In The City. Personally, I didn't need them to prove they could still be wild. It's great that they're so prolific, and want to get stuff out to fans ASAP. But a less hurried band would have kept "Flux" in the can until Intimacy's release, would not have put the digital version out without "Talons," would maybe have cropped a track or two out of the filler, and would have seen Intimacy welcomed a lot more warmly from the get-go. They're better than this.

Good Enough To Name-Drop, Not Good Enough To Discuss

Destroyer - Trouble In Dreams

The Magnetic Fields - Distortion

Okkervil River - The Stand Ins

Portishead - Third

Hercules And Love Affair - Hercules And Love Affair

M83 - Saturdays = Youth

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

The Best Of What I Encountered From Other People's Best-Of Lists

Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It

This year's retro-soul entry, following in the tradition of Nicole Willis And The Investigators and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. But this is the best of the bunch. Mr. Saadiq is a seriously talented dude, feeling less like a throwback and more like a man in the wrong century.

Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster... / We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

Very fun. Potentially annoying, but pretty fun on a first impression. Unfortunately their having released two separate albums this year means that I haven't really gotten through it all yet. But I can say that We Are Beautiful is a large step forward, in quality if not anything stylistic. As amazing as the swiftness of their follow-up's release, the extent of growth is just as amazing.

Good Stuff

Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple

It's missing the instant hits, but it's also far more consistent. Even more Motown than St. Elsewhere.

Ben Folds - Way To Normal

"Bitch Went Nuts"

A return to impish form after dabbling in soft-rock territory with Songs For Silverman. Although Silverman was far better than generally thought, it's nice to hear the clearest lyricist in pop music up to his old tricks, writing songs like "Bitch Went Nuts" and a song about falling off a stage. It's not essential from front to back, but it's certainly no disappointment.

Girl Talk - Feed The Animals

You want an indication of how weak a year it's been? Until very, very late in the year, a mashup album, albeit an awesome one, was in my top 10. I purposely left Night Ripper out of contention in 2006, and I very nearly had to break that rule this time around. Sheesh.

But as for the album, same deal as Night Ripper, second verse same as the first. Instant dance party. But more importantly, it made me remember how awesome "Gimme Some Lovin" is.

Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III

[nsfw lyrics]

Best mainstream rap album in ages, certainly since Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. But what's so remarkable is that he didn't go pop, as OutKast kinda did... he dragged pop to him. His talent is so superlative that people are drawn to him without him having to take one step away from what he's doing. For Wayne to be as unique and weird as he is without his beats following suit... for him be as critically acclaimed as he is without sacrificing any street cred... that is just a monstrous achievement, one that mostly explains the diversity and size of his fan base.

R.E.M. - Accelerate

And now here's the best mainstream rock album in ages. They've regained the fastball they had during the Monster years. Basically, Jacknife Lee should stick to dead bands and leave the ones I like alone.

Blitzen Trapper - Furr

Now this gets a huge thumbs up. Embarrassingly, it took a surreal fan-made video setting "Saturday Nite" to Alf footage to get my attention. But it worked. And I'm glad it did, because the entire album is awesome. Reminiscent of The Band or Lynyrd Skynyrd, and more immediately the FAIL-ridden-but-once-great My Morning Jacket. Worthy of each comparison. And far better in the retro category than Dr. Dog, which bores me for some reason.

A quick but illustrative sidebar: a month ago, during a shopping spree at Newbury Comics, I encountered the most drug-damaged acid victim I've ever seen. Holding a gigantic Foo Fighters vinyl box set, he was quizzing the man behind the counter about its contents. Imagine the following exchange happening at the most excruciatingly slow pace imaginable:

Acid Victim: What kind of music is this?
Store Cashier: It's rock.
AV: Yeah, but what kind?
SC: I don't know, just regular rock.
AV: So it's like the Dead?
SC: No.
AV: What instruments do they play?
SC: Um... I dunno, drums, a bass, a couple of guitars.
AV: What, no keyboards?
SC: No, not really.
[AV looks at the box set]
AV: Do they jam?
SC: No.

At that point he looked quizzically at the box set again, confused at how this band could play rock music but be nothing like the Grateful Dead or Phish. I have no idea what possessed this man to pick up the set, other than the word "Foo" sounding like something a pothead Communist from Burlington would name his band. I also cannot imagine why the epitome of late-90s rock would be so impossible to quantify. I have thought about that story several times since it happened, and I don't know what the cashier should have done differently.

My point? That guy should have picked himself up some Blitzen Trapper.

Kanye West - 808s And Heartbreak

I thought this would be #10, but it's not, thanks to a late-breaking curveball.

The general tone of criticism has been that Kanye departed a field in which he was the undisputed master, pop hip-hop, and entered a field in which he is mediocre, neo-soul. However, as I've documented frequently in the past, he's not much of a rapper, but he is an unparalleled musical conceptualist. 808s is no exception, proving both that West is good enough to do anything he wants and weird enough to drag the mainstream towards him. From the bare electro of "Say You Will," through clear highlights "Love Lockdown" and "Robocop," and on to concluding track "Coldest Winter," 808s is a complete success.

The List

10. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Show

This album inspired the "best albums from other people's lists" category, then graduated from it.

My first reaction, when digging into the deeper tracks in here, was that they were a Scottish version of Crowded House or Tears For Fears, or even U2 in their sense of drama and the wholesale thievery on "Head Rolls Off" of every rhythm guitar trick The Edge invented.

But after listening to Scott Hutchison's Mangum-style vocal work, particularly on "The Twist," it struck me that the heart of their appeal is the same as that of Neutral Milk Hotel... there's a deep resonance that absolutely hammers you if you let it. Sounding genuinely like a cross between U2 and NMH is one hell of a compliment, but it sure feels true to me.

I have a feeling I'll be listening to this a hell of a lot next year.

9. Hot Chip - Made In The Dark

A big jump forward after 2006's The Warning. They're missing a "Boy From School" to tie it all together, but track for track this one is a lot better. They're really pushing the formula with a lot of these goofy songs ("Bendable Poseable") where the song is weird, but there's a purpose.

8. Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs

A more than respectable effort from a band that is clearly in search of greener pastures. Not a perfect album from beginning to end, but given the sappier, smoother direction that Plans pointed towards, for better or worse, Narrow Stairs is a welcome reintroduction of some edge and jangle. "Cath..." and "Long Division" are hard to argue with; "No Sunlight" isn't so hard to argue with, as was seen earlier, but it is nonetheless the latest in a series of Death Cab songs that juxtapose cheery and bouncy music with depressing, defeatist lyrics ("The Sound of Settling," "I Was A Kaleidoscope") with great results.

7. Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

Most underrated album of the year. A letdown only because it couldn't possibly follow up one of the greatest albums of recent memory, Apologies To The Queen Mary. But by a) allowing Dan Boeckner to take the reins from Spencer Krug for most of the album, and b) forging a more unified album from start to finish, Wolf Parade make the best of it. Boeckner's emergence is particularly encouraging; while the Krug brilliance everyone hoped for wasn't quite there, Zoomer high point "California Dreamer" excepted, Boeckner rose to Krug's level and established that Wolf Parade has more than one superlative creative force behind it.

6. Snow Patrol - A Hundred Million Suns

I am truly, legitimately shocked to have placed this so high, and above such good work from bands who never stumbled the way Snow Patrol has. After the abuse many of us endured at the hands of "Chasing Cars" and its overexposure, I marked them as either washed up or high on their own stardom. But they've earned it.

So how the hell did this happen? It may not be much of a departure from Eyes Open (which, by the way, looks a lot less crimes-against-humanity bad now that it doesn't signified the demise of the band) but it is mostly bereft of the goofy "put Sufjan Stevens on" lyrical indulgences that made that album so impossible to like. Gary Lightbody's return from the foreground to the level of his bandmates, happy to contribute rather than distract, serves Snow Patrol well.

This return to excellence only bangs home another bizarre truism about Lightbody: he is maddeningly consistent in his inconsistency, alternating brilliance and turditude. Songs For Polar Bears is great. When It's All Over We Still Have To Clear Up is terrible. Final Straw is coming with me to my desert island, as convincing an album as there is. Eyes Open, though better than I originally thought, is openly lazy to the point where you wonder if Lightbody even cares. A Hundred Million Suns proves that he does. How does this keep happening? He's supposed to have a phenomenal creative period in the middle, flanked by mediocrity. It's a Snickers bar with alternating layers of nougat and caramel, and no chocolate shell. Is this alternating yes-yes-yes/oh-God-no situation more encouraging or more frustrating? Even his Reindeer Section output alternates between genius and boredom (Son of Evil Reindeer, which features one great song).

I guess this means the next one will blow, cause this one is really, really good.

5. Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours

One of the most fun albums of the year. Bright Like Neon Love was good; this is excellent. It's hard to describe Cut Copy without invoking the obvious New Order comparisons, but they certainly stand up to the comparison.

4. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid

This album won Great Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize, and justifiably so. The filler isn't particularly compelling, but the best work on here is deeply moving. As I said in my review, "One Day Like This" is an amazing song that deserves more (or some) stateside attention.

3. TV On The Radio - Dear Science

I was supposed to pick Dear Science. It should have been easy. It's indeed brilliant stuff, their best and most fun work to date. And it certainly makes the best rational argument for the #1 spot, deep and subversive and masterful even through its low points.

But I want to have some irrational love for it as a whole... I need to have some obsession with this album, the inability to take it out of my CD player, the ability to sing along with every song. And that's not really true.

It just feels unreal to me. Return To Cookie Mountain, for all its totally original post-apocalyptic noise, nevertheless still felt very human and organic... my reaction is to wonder how humans could come up with those sounds. Dear Science's detached smoothness leaves no such wonder about the music's synthesis; it's all constructed and processed and digested, stripping away its urgency in the process. Normally I'd be fine with that; here, though, I think they lose sight of what's important.

There's no one defining song on Dear Science, no "Wolf Like Me," to tie the album together. Much as I love "Crying," it's so clean and meant for dancing that it reminds you of bands who do the dance-rock thing a whole lot better. Much as I adore the Africa-infused "Red Dress," it feels more like an Antibalas song (they provide the horns) that TVOTR guests on than the other way around. "Golden Age" is weak. "Dancing Choose" is fun but airy. Where is the song that we all would think of when thinking of Dear Science? I don't hear it.

Dear Science is far and away their most cohesive and least difficult work. It is evidence of a band that has Gotten It. The slick feel across each track takes away from the band's rough strengths, making it sound at times like what New Age really should have sounded like. I certainly don't think it's undeserving. But the bottom line is that Dear Science just didn't win my vote.

2. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

I'm not surprised that Stay Positive wasn't the upper-echelon breakthrough it should have been, given that it's a redux of Boys And Girls In America that narrowly misses its mark. But Boys and Girls shouldn't prevent us from holding the deeply skilled work here in high regard. If Stay Positive had come along without Boys and Girls preceding it, it would blow people's minds.

They're not plowing any new musical soil, but they do what they do better than anyone else. The band rocks harder than anyone else. Craig Finn's always-tragic words hit harder than anyone else. You really don't need much more than that.

So many upper-underground bands of their caliber failed. It's a shame that The Hold Steady haven't been applauded more often for succeeding so thoroughly.

1. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

I seem to have dealt with internet buzz bands really well this year. I'm indifferent towards Fleet Foxes, and I love Vampire Weekend to death. This would never have happened five years ago.

Vampire Weekend was probably the most uncool choice possible as my favorite album, but there it is. They didn't rock as hard as The Hold Steady, show the genius of TV On The Radio, hit with the same emotional punches and drama as Elbow. But at the end of the day (year?) none of that matters. Because I just flat-out like their album better.

It's not like I don't get the backlash. Their unabashed bourgeois preppiness and their delicate Ivy League aesthetic open them up for all sorts of criticism. And I hate privileged people as much as anyone I've ever encountered. I should despise them.

But I don't, because they made a fucking fantastic album. High quality, tons of creativity and originality, pop sensibility to spare. They wore those sweaters and loafers, and made a classic album in spite of it. So I can't say shit, other than nice job.

And with that, I'm done. It may only be just over 4000 words, but to me it felt like a milli.

Alvin, You Were A Little Flat... Watch It

Having been walloped over the weekend by a white Christmas, having put the lights on the tree and the presents beneath it, and having guaranteed myself another Christmas Eve filled with frantic store-to-store driving, I have been overtaken by Christmas spirit. And I saved a mouthful of spirit for you! Enjoy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Songs List Sidebar

Thanks to some seriously nasty snow, I'm stuck in the apartment listening to music and watching the Celtics tonight.  And I'm glad I did, because the most awesomest thing ever just happened.

Speaking of my just-posted best-songs list, Kanye's "Love Lockdown" just came on in iTunes.  After a few measures of the bass beat at the beginning of the song, right as Kanye was about to start singing, a snow plow went into reverse just outside my building.  And its BOOOP... BOOOP... BOOOP... started up just after Kanye did, fitting perfectly into the fourth note of the measure.

It really was perfect.  The tempo lined up perfectly, the tone was in key, the length of the tone even complemented the deep bass half-note it was playing on top of.  It added without subtracting, like a thin layer of mayo on a BLT.  I was disappointed when the truck stopped backing up.  I may never think of "Love Lockdown" the same way.

This is what happens when snow takes a dump your weekend...

Best Songs Of 2008

I thought I'd start easy, since the best albums list is careening out of control like Howard Hughes, and ballooning in size like Mike Tyson.

So, dun-det-da-dunnnnn, here's the best songs from this year... ever.

I've posted an Imeem playlist at the bottom that, as of this writing, holds each of the songs on the list. For now they are mostly 30-second previews; register on Imeem and you should be able to hear the entirety of each song.


Frightened Rabbit - "Head Rolls Off"
Blitzen Trapper - "Furr"
Raphael Saadiq - "100 Yard Dash"
Tokyo Police Club - "In A Cave"
M83 - "Kim & Jessie"
Tapes 'n Tapes - "Hang Them All"
Cut Copy - "Hearts On Fire"
Kanye West - "Love Lockdown"
Girl Talk - "Play Your Part (Pt. 1)"
Okkervil River - "Lost Coastlines"
The Roots - "Criminal"
Snow Patrol - "If There's A Rocket Tie Me To It"
Hot Chip - "Ready For The Floor"

The List

10. The Magnetic Fields - "California Girls"

Caustic and beautiful, like pretty much anything else Stephin Merritt has ever recorded.

9. Gnarls Barkley - "Surprise"

A haunting Mamas & Papas tribute that stands as one of Cee-Lo's most introspective pieces.

8. Wolf Parade - "Language City"

The most fun song on At Mount Zoomer.

7. TV On The Radio - "DLZ"

One of the few from Dear Science that recalls the band's previous, moodier work. Not that the awesome party-fusion stuff they're doing now is a problem, but it's not nearly as totally awesome.

6. The Dirtbombs - "Ever Lovin' Man"

Holy shit, does this rock. A prime example of how ridiculous it is that certain bands aren't bigger.

5. Death Cab For Cutie - "Cath..."

Not frequently does a band in its second decade of existence release a song that so perfectly summarizes that band's body of work. "Cath..." does it.

4. The Hold Steady - "Stay Positive"

Great song from a great band. Manages to be awesome despite a corny, awww-inducing shout-out to their fans and supporters. But easily the catchiest track on Stay Positive.

3. Vampire Weekend - "Oxford Comma"

I'm not at all surprised by the wide array of songs from VW's debut that folks have chosen to single out for lists like this. "Oxford Comma" is the song that really sold me on the band; simple and pretty, rising above the preciousness that elsewhere makes them so easy to dismiss to create a truly great song.

2. Hercules And Love Affair - "Blind"

I wasn't a huge fan of this album in its entirety, but probably only because "Blind" is so completely and totally incredible. Turns any boring-ass room into a dance floor. Between this and Cut Copy, and the recent successes of LCD and The Rapture, it would seem that everything that the DFA touches turns to gold. (Or silver.)

1. Elbow - "One Day Like This"

The clear winner. In my initial mini-review of The Seldom Seen Kid, I said, "this song makes me want to get my fucking life together." So expressive, so profoundly joyful, so effective at banging its uplifting message home and moving the listener. Bravo.

There you have it. Best albums coming soon. Until then, abbondanza:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apatow FTW: I Love You, Man

It's been months since any Apatow-related content has come out! I guess that explains why the economy went in the shitter. But it will all bounce back once I Love You, Man comes out:

This looks both totally stupid and totally pointless and totally awesome. It seems like Jason Segel, unleashed and insane, is finally about to match the apex of his acting career, which was accomplished with naught but his silvery voice:

Friday, December 05, 2008

ALF As Northwest Psych/Folk Pop

I wasn't sure who would appreciate this... but here's a video of a Blitzen Trapper song set to ALF footage.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Green Man: A Life In Pictures

Writing posts is hard, so instead take these fine clips of this fine persona from a fine show.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Praise Of The Idiot Box

It's garbage day! Two mammoth posts. I've been catching up on some TV lately:

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

This surprised me, as I was predisposed to hate this show. I once saw a commercial for the episode "Charlie Gets Cancer" and found the ad supremely unfunny. (Perhaps it was during the baseball playoffs on FX, when I was presumably pissed off about the Yankees or some such nonsense.) I rarely jump into shows about assholes, and this is definitely a show about assholes. The show should be called It's Always Assholes In Philadelphia. (Or maybe just Philadelphia would suffice?)

But my God, is this a really, really good show or what? Not great, but 2x really good. As social satire, it's right up there with Curb and Seinfeld, but with a serious gonzo/stupid streak. Seinfeld meets The Three Stooges. A really simple premise that has been dipped in some seriously off-the-wall shit. It's as if they made a list of the very worst things in the world, and cross off two or three with each episode.

Oh, yes. I'm not entirely sure why these clowns are so endearing, not just to us but to each other, but they are. (Probably a result of their inner Stooge-ness.) I got the good lord goin down on meeeeeee...

Battlestar Galactica

As someone who is generally skeptical of television sci-fi, this is really fantastic. I haven't gotten far enough into it to encounter what I understand is some seriously stupid shit, what I've seen through half of Season One is really excellent.

They pull few punches, and constantly wreak havoc upon their characters, burying them in disaster and giving them a mere toothpick with which to dig themselves out. Dread lies around every corner, ready ruin the entire human race if someone makes just one simple error. The first proper episode of the series establishes this so memorably that they can skate on things further down the road without losing credit. They make you imagine what it would be like to live in fear of the human race dying in the next few minutes.

This show about androids and space flight feels so real because it works on a personal, human level to a greater extent than any other sci-fi show I've seen. The drama doesn't come from imagining some weird alien universe, it comes from allegory and transplanted human feelings. On the show, it's Cylons attacking every 33 minutes; in real life, it's "terrorists" and 9/11.

Either way, highly recommended.

Mad Men

I can't say this is as great a show as it's been built up to be. But it's awfully great. It oozes cool and style and charisma in every frame, serving, as The Sopranos did, as a proxy through which the viewer behaves irresponsibly. You cannot agree with the show's subjects, who have probably done more damage to America than the Mafia, on any count, but Jon Hamm and his off-the-charts likability makes you like and even root for this amoral person nonetheless. He's just barely decent enough to grab you and keep hold as he navigates the slimy waters of his universe.


Yes, it's flawed. It's camp, it's derivative, it has awful dialogue, its characters are stupid and frequently act in service of the plot instead of themselves, and it hand-holds you through every step of its labyrinthine plot, unwilling to let even the most fundamental truth go unspoken. But I like it all the same. Because it's fun.

But I'm beginning to lose my patience.

Ever since the first season, they've been flailing around, trying to make this show work. The second season was in many senses a do-over of the first. More new storylines, more unrevealed mysteries, just more, not unlike how The Wire handled its sophomore season... except Heroes was awful.

This season, they've tried to delve more deeply into the same characters, but in reality have done more to invalidate past truths than build upon them. It's been a litany of "remember that? Well that wasn't REALLY how it went" revelations. Why they would want to tell us that what we LIKED was fake, and what we do NOT like is the real deal, I don't know. It's a delicate dance that even when done supremely well can be loathed or rejected (ahem, Matrix Reloaded). This show's writing staff has failed to pull it off.

And while it's nice that they've heard our calls for fewer new characters, they have answered those calls in the most perfunctory manner possible: by simply teaming up odd pairs of heroes and having them do something benign. The effect is the same as, say, the effect satirized so well in the brilliant film Last Action Hero: the movies will always pair up cops in the craziest ways, like the lady cop with the cartoon cat, or (as with the stars) Arnold Schwarzenegger with an eleven-year-old kid. (Gosh, I wish I had video of this.) On the good side, you have something like Lethal Weapon. On the bad side, you have some of the more ridiculous Tom & Jerry cartoons out there, those in which Tom and Jerry have to team up to defeat some third entity, like the dog... it's thrilling because Tom and Jerry are enemies who have teamed up, but after a while, so what? And doesn't it totally undermine the premise (cats and mice) to team them up? Heroes, if you couldn't guess, leans heavily towards Tom & Jerry. Oddness for its own sake sucks after long enough.

So why do I keep watching? I honestly have no idea why this show has the distinction of being the only one I try to watch live. And yet it is. But if this crap keeps up, it won't be for long.

But let's end this on a high note:

30 Rock

Is awesome. I was stunned to discover that 30 Rock isn't a gigantic hit. This show is hilarious, madcap, and entirely accessible. There's no weird Arrested Development-esque barrier to watching... devoid of inside jokes and winks, you can jump in pretty much anywhere without missing a beat. And it killed Studio 60, and justifiably so. Why is this show stuck in the low-rated-Emmy-winners ghetto? It's no longer the mix of trail-blazing and quality that kills ratings... now it's strictly quality! Totally, totally bizarre.

Live: TV On The Radio & The Dirtbombs

Why do things right away when you could just wait a month or two?

TV On The Radio / The Dirtbombs
Wilbur Theater, October 13, 2008

Telling you that TVOTR is incredible in person is old news, so let's start with some exciting new business:


Absolutely outstanding. I listened to Ultraglide in Black, their 2001 soul cover album, damn near on repeat for the week leading up to this show... their new album, We Have You Surrounded, is good, but Ultraglide is the best thing I've heard all year. With the really great stuff, you know as soon as you hear a little bit of it, and Ultraglide is no exception.

Both Sly Stone cover "Underdog" or Phil Lynott cover, "Ode To A Black Man" deserve to be heard in all their proper glory. And you deserve to listen to them. Just barely below those two is "Chains of Love," embedded for your convenience, which also owns.

Unfortunately I had to wait for someone before the show, so I didn't make it inside in time to catch them playing either song. (At the pace those guys move along at, I probably missed about 5-6 songs in those 15 minutes.) But I did catch "Ever Lovin' Man" (embedded below) and "Chains of Love," so it worked out. My ears took a lot of punishment from being so close to the front, but entirely worth the trouble.

They have earned my business for each of their Boston shows for the immediate future. And if they come to you, you really need to check them out yourself.



Having seen them before (this is now my third time) and having gotten three completely different shows from them, each time elevating the source material, I'm pretty convinced. Easily one of the two or three best live acts I've ever seen. And any visit they make is going to get high marks from me.

I'm always impressed by how they go about repurposing their older songs, perfecting them over time for live performance. Case in point is "The Wrong Way," which has been making a slow journey from the medium-pace distort-o-matic recorded version to a show highlight that I dare say has overtaken "Wolf Like Me" in the rock-out department. (This will be the second year in a row that a TVOTR song will be my live-and-in-person highlight of the year.)

The version captured above was taken in Philly the night before the Boston show, and is notably missing the full horn section that makes the rendition I heard the full-blown Vegas-style explosion that it is. Tunde Adebimpe fed off the horns, hopping around even more than usual and knocking it out of the zip code, let alone the park. The closest comparison I could come up with, to what I saw and felt and was reminded of, was the James Brown church sequence in The Blues Brothers. It built and built and built. I kinda loved it.

Link: James Brown - The Blues Brothers

The thing is, I was hoping for similarly joyous treatments of the new material. And I didn't get them. The new stuff played fine. The Benedictine Horns sounded a little off on "Golden Age" and "Crying" (though "Dancing Choose" went far better for them), and the result was less than perfect, given how awesome "Golden Age" in particular is.

The bottom line is that of the opening five-song murderer's row, the unquestionable highlights of that stretch were still oldies "The Wrong Way" and "Wolf Like Me." The new songs couldn't hold a candle to the old ones. I'm sure they will work that out; their second tour supporting Cookie Mountain was far better than the first.

Also on the less-than-glowing side, their set list surprised me a little. While I appreciate their range of abilities as a band, and I'm impressed that they thought to play two selections from Young Liars, I was put off by the long, filler-filled lull during the third quarter of the show. I didn't show up to hear "Stork and Owl," "Blues From Down Here," and similarly middling songs. Oddly, "Stork And Owl" is probably the ONLY song on Dear Science worth skipping, and they managed to include it at the expense of "Red Dress," understandably, and "DLZ" and "Lover's Day," less understandably. Leaving a full four new songs out in order to bring along "A Method?" Seriously? At least play "Tonight" or "Province," two other heinous omissions, if you're gonna preserve Cookie Mountain's lesser works. "Tonight" had never made much of an impression on me, until they opened their 4/19/07 show with it. It's surprisingly moving in person. "A Method" just sucks. What the hell.

But that doesn't change my opinion of their quality one bit. Despite the time I've spent nitpicking here, they are minor complaints on the whole. The great largely outweighs the not. The lulls and less-interesting song selections were flanked by some seriously excellent work. They are a truly tremendous live band.

As I've parroted before, the essence of this band has not been captured in the studio. One day, they will release a live album that presents their live sound definitively to the masses, as Okonokos did for My Morning Jacket, and people will flip the fuck out. (And "The Wrong Way" will be that album's best track by far.) I would like more people to have the experience I've had with these guys.

Other thoughts from the show:

* I liked the Wilbur Theater's concert setup. It's a skinny, tall theater, so floor access is that much better if you get it. And it's historic, so it's got some character, though not really that of a rock show. But best of all, unlike some theater-based rock shows, where you have to deal with immovable seating and strict ticketing restrictions, the Wilbur gets that shit out of the way! And with (I presume) fire codes involved, it's less of a sea of humanity down there at the bottom. The only minus is the lack of bar. But that can also be a plus, depending on the crowd. (Kyp actually thanked us for having so much fun despite the lack of bar.) On the whole, I give the Wilbur an A-.

* I was close enough to the stage to read Tunde's set list (in reverse) prior to the start of the show. While the blogger in me furiously noted the list in his phone, the fan in me knew what was coming ahead of time, and had a bit of the joy of surprise taken away. This is a good example of the reviewer/blogger mindset taking the soul out of the experience.

* Check this nugget from the AV Club interview with Tunde:

AVC: Cookie Mountain felt like an artistic hurricane. By contrast, Dear Science feels, not reserved, but...

TA: More regular?

AVC: Exactly.

TA: [Laughs.] The recording of Cookie Mountain is something that none of us really wanted to experience over again, let alone accidentally repeat. Doing so probably would have resulted in the band breaking up, or one of us causing another grievous bodily harm.

AVC: Why is that?

TA: It was just a really dark place. I'm glad that record exists, but it was kind of like the Ren & Stimpy episode where they get space madness, and they're orbiting the planet, ready to kill each other for a bar of soap. Coming home after touring, we had to be like, "Guys, remember how we actually liked each other? Let's do that again, and make something that comes out of that." Which is what Dear Science is.

Ren and Stimpy!!! The guy who sang "all your dreams are over now / all your wings have fallen down," draws analogies to Ren and Stimpy. This is like learning that Cormac McCarthy drawing inspiration from The Three Stooges.

Anyway, great show as always. I don't know that I really described the character of the show,

Halfway Home
The Wrong Way
Dancing Choose
Golden Age
Wolf Like Me
Young Liars
Love Dog
Stork and Owl
Blues From Down Here
Shout Me Out

[encore break]

A Method
Staring At The Sun

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Whoever Did This Is King Of The Internet

TV On The Radio - Dear Science,

TV On The Radio
Dear Science,

The comma-laden Dear Science, is a surprisingly positive and immediate effort from a band known primarily for a distinctively brooding sound that is typically described as post-apocalyptic. While each song on Return To Cookie Mountain, their 2006 breakthrough, is shrouded in a unique fuzz that inspires visions of broken machinery and rust, the entirety of their follow-up is shiny, clean, and, most shockingly, a lot of fun. If their debut Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was the apocalypse, and Cookie Mountain was the first sprout from beneath the rubble, then Dear Science, is the party.

That new brightness is a double-edged sword. The primary source of fun with Cookie Mountain, and to a lesser extent Desperate Youth, is in the discovery of musicality in the untraditional elements used to build not just atmosphere ("Playhouses," "Tonight," "Don't Love You") but front-and-center hooks ("I Was A Lover"). That aforementioned distortion-heavy signature sound of theirs is gone, replaced by drum machines, funky guitar lines, clean reverberations, and (gasp) hand-clapping. It's not really a better-vs-worse thing... one part of me had been looking forward to hearing what kind of crazy shit they'd come up with next, and the other part is just digging the new hotness.

If there is a clear disadvantage, it's in the smaller emotional punch Dear Science, packs. Their biggest songs, "Wolf Like Me" off Cookie Mountain and "Staring At The Sun" off Desperate Youth, are so strong because they're so immediate, urgent, and terrifying on the surface. The best work on Dear Science, doesn't carry the same rage or spite... by contrast, it's sleek and composed. More intimate, maybe, but not as effective in stirring up a deep response.

But at the same time, that best work is really excellent. Their mastery of rhythm is on full display, particularly on the faux-rap intro to "Dancing Choose" and the faux-African horns of "Red Dress" (contributed by, er, non-faux Afrobeat band Antibalas). "Crying" is slowly becoming a favorite, its choruses becoming increasingly thick with horns and synths on top of the main guitar riff. "DLZ" has a heavy, almost Zeppelin-ish stomp. "Lover's Day" is a strong, call-to-arms closer that leaves you with the kind of explosion that every album should end with.

Even their filler is better than ever, far superior to that of Cookie Mountain and Desperate Youth. "Love Dog" and "Family Tree" aren't as deep or unique as "Dirtywhirl" or "Let The Devil In," for example, but they work a whole lot better, both as complements to the stronger tracks and on their own.

When I last wrote about Cookie Mountain, I suggested that TVOTR was capable of more. While Dear Science, is not quite what I had in mind, and while it won't Represent Something Important the way that Return To Cookie Mountain did, it's easily one of the top releases of the year. It stands as evidence that TVOTR are realizing how good they are, gaining confidence in their abilities, and relying less on sonic trickery to make compelling music.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yearly Album List

And now... the last of today's cleaning of the Drafts folder...

A while back, a blog-dork exercise made the rounds, in which the author makes a list of great albums from each year of your life.  You're free to decide your own criteria and overarching theme and whatnot... just do it however.

I tried, and failed, to use a consistent metric for each selection.  It's just not possible for a civilian.  I haven't listened to enough music from that pre-2000 period to use quality as the only criterion.  And my listening behavior as a child doesn't lend itself to a list of albums that loomed large in my consciousness... Brothers In Arms and Graceland are the first instances of that.  Where I could tip my cap to what I was listening to, as with 1988, I did.  But until 1989, when I finally acquired the buying power to collect CDs, this wasn't happening.  So these albums are, for the most part, picked retrospectively.  I wasn't listening to Sheik Yerbouti in 1979, Appetite For Destruction in 1987, or Neutral Milk Hotel in 1998.

But that's fine.  This is a fair index of my musical tastes over the years where possible, and a decent reflection of my tastes going backwards.  Discussion to follow...

1979 - Fleetwood Mac - Tusk / Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti (tie)
1980 - Talking Heads - Remain In Light
1981 - The Police - Ghost In The Machine
1982 - Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
1983 - Billy Joel - An Innocent Man
1984 - Weird Al Yankovic - In 3-D
1985 - Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms
1986 - Paul Simon - Graceland
1987 - Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
1988 - DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - He's the DJ, I'm The Rapper
1989 - Faith No More - The Real Thing
1990 - They Might Be Giants - Flood
1991 - Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
1992 - Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine
1993 - Pearl Jam - Vs.
1994 - Green Day - Dookie
1995 - Rancid - And Out Come The Wolves
1996 - Weezer - Pinkerton
1997 - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Let's Face It
1998 - Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
1999 - Blink-182 - Enema Of The State
2000 - The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
2001 - Ben Folds - Rockin' The Suburbs
2002 - Spoon - Kill The Moonlight
2003 - OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004 - The Killers - Hot Fuss
2005 - Sufjan Stevens - Come On, Feel The Illinoise!
2006 - The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
2007 - LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
2008 - The Hold Steady - Stay Positive [pending]

What's fascinating to me isn't so much the classic albums I couldn't include (1979's London Calling, for example) but the number of albums by those names that caused drastic alterations in my musical tastes and habits.  Lots of big names are missing.  Where's Nirvana?  Where's Radiohead?  Where's Snow Patrol?  Those bands each changed the way I listen to music, and they're not represented even once.  And I wanted to include Stone Temple Pilots, just as a big fat fuck-you to whoever says they were talentless and unoriginal.  But this is how it has to go.

Nevermind wasn't the only tought cut from 1991.  That year was a near-impossible decision.  Blood Sugar Sex Magik gets the nod over Nevermind and Ten because it showed me that sexuality could be put forward openly and aggressively without it being childish ("Sir Psycho Sexy" notwithstanding).  Since I was just starting to mature, it really affected me... and corrupted my sweet, church-going, innocent mind!  Thank God for that.

1979 was another toughie.  It's the only tie, but I couldn't lose either Tusk or Sheik Yerbouti.  And that meant leaving out London Calling, The Wall, The Specials, Fear Of Music... just far too many crimes against musical list-making.

On the other hand, my unavoidable 1985 selection disappoints me greatly.  Brothers In Arms is possibly my least favorite Dire Straits album, despite the enormous footprint it left on my childhood.  The work they did prior to that album was so far superior that Brothers In Arms really doesn't belong here, especially when I already selected Love Over Gold as my pick for 1982.  However, 1985 is littered with a mix of good albums by great bands whose better work appears elsewhere on the list (this, Little Creatures, Dare To Be Stupid, Life's Rich Pageant) and critical classics I haven't really listened to enough to put on a list like this (The Replacements' Tim, The Smiths' Meat is Murder, Kate Bush's Hounds of Love).  I would have been much happier if I could, in good faith, put Tim in this slot.  It's a fantastic album that I like a lot.  But it has played zero role whatsoever in my life.

1981 is the only de facto choice.  I expected more.  But that's not so bad, because The Police ought to be on here in some form.  But it was one of a whopping five non-Zappa albums from 1981 in my iTunes.  So it was an easy make-up call to give them.  (Other four: The Tom Tom Club, Van Halen's Fair Warning, Guitar Music by Leo Kottke, and The Replacements' Sorry, Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash!)

And speaking of make-up calls, I got to give one to The Killers.  I tore apart Hot Fuss in my review of Sam's Town, and have often referred to The Killers as part of a progressive abstraction away from similar and better bands (i.e. "The Killers ripped off Interpol, Interpol ripped off New Order, New Order owes everything they had to Ian Curtis, Joy Division is overrated," etc), which I may have elucidated on the blog a long while back.  However, after dozens of listens, I have completely changed my mind.  Hot Fuss is one of the great albums of the decade.  When I can't decide what to listen to on my mp3 player as I go out for the evening, I invariably select Hot Fuss.  I can think of no bigger compliment, especially given that it's been out for four years.

2002 is kind of a weird year, too.  Kill The Moonlight is a fantastic album, and the Spoon album most representative of why they're so awesome.  But that gets the pick because of its lasting effect as much as anything else.  There were so many albums from 2002 that I loved at the time, but don't affect me as much anymore... The Postal Service's Give Up, Talib Kweli's Quality, Blackalicious' Blazing Arrow, Jurassic 5's Power In Numbers... the list goes on.  And the others that I do still feel strongly about, like the late-era Bosstones release A Jacknife To A Swan, don't hold up to the true classics from that year, like The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots or Bright Eyes' Lifted...

You know what?  Screw it.  I'm talking too much about stuff I left off.  I should just list the most egregious omissions.

1979 - Pink Floyd - The Wall
1980 - The Clash - London Calling
1987 - R.E.M. - Document
1991 - Nirvana - Nevermind
1991 - Pearl Jam - Ten
1992 - Sublime - 40 Oz. To Freedom
1992 - Stone Temple Pilots - Core
1994 - Weezer - Weezer
1996 - Less Than Jake - Losing Streak
1996 - Dave Matthews Band - Crash
1997 - Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape
1997 - Radiohead - OK Computer
1999 - The Roots - Things Fall Apart
2002 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
2003 - Snow Patrol - Final Straw
2003 - Guster - Keep It Together
2003 - The New Pornographers - Electric Version
2004 - Green Day - American Idiot
2004 - Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
2006 - The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
2007 - The National - Boxer

I could have made a whole other list of rejects!  Better stop right there, before I do make another list....

Ballwashing The National Again

Ignore the fan-video visual. Just listen to this simple, perfect song. Lucky you.

Annotated Girl Talk

Looks like I'm flushing a bunch of old posts today...

Girl Talk's new collection of mashups to end all collections of mashups, Feed The Animals, is out now. And somehow, it's even better than Night Ripper. Not all the mashups work, but there are so many flourishes of DJ genius that it's worth it.

His work is so dense and encyclopedic that you need an atlas to figure out his samples. Most of the times I've listened to Feed The Animals, I've followed along in Wikipedia. Enjoyable as it is, I always have trouble seeing it for its music, and not for its documentary value. I think I like acknowledging which songs he mashed together more than listening to the end result. (Not that I won't dance to it. Because I absolutely will. Just saying.)

Anyhoo, following in the footsteps of such music-nerd compendiums as the Dan Bejar/Destroyer wiki, a good fellow at compiled this statistical analysis of how GT uses those samples. Breakdowns of median sample date, length, changeovers, etc. It's interesting stuff.

[hat tip]

New TVOTR Songs

Two new TV On The Radio songs have been making the rounds of late, and they're both awfully promising. They're both a little simpler and smaller than their usual fare, but good nonetheless. I'm so ready for the new album. It's been a weak year, full of disappointments, disasters, boredom, and downturns. I can't write a best-of post of nothing but de facto choices; if Gnarls Barkley makes my 2008 list, I quit. I really need Dear Science, to be good.

"Golden Age" and "Dancing Choose" can be heard here, as of today. They're also touring this fall; go see them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nobody Expects the Palin Inquisition

I've been thinking about this since Sarah Palin was announced. Thank goodness someone else videotaped my thoughts...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

You Mean Doctor Galazkiewicz?

I've always been a little puzzled by Eddie Jemison's presence in the Ocean's 11 movies. Apart from Shaobo Qin, whose role calls for anonymity, Jemison is the only unknown in a movie whose sole premise is to have celebrities in even its smallest roles. In that way, he stands out.

And yet despite not being a known quantity, he has always felt strangely familiar to me. For a long time, I thought it was because he appeared to be at ease, to belong, amidst the Pitts and Clooneys to an unexpected degree.

But tonight, thanks to this guy, I realized why. Behold:

HE'S FUCKING DR. GALAZKIEWICZ!!! I always wondered what happened to that guy! He had stardom written all over him. And sure enough! But man, that was awesome to discover.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Video's Worth The Time It Takes To Write A Post

Seems like every summer I lose all ability to finish the posts I start. But they're not perfect yet. I'll make up for this radio silence eventually.

Until then, enjoy this. At least SOMEONE has a way with words around here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


This canned but funny Hellboy II promo was brought to my attention here...

Hellboy kicked ass. Hellboy II will kick the ass of whoever normally kicks asses, but will then defend its ass against the dude trying to kick his ass.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers Not So Sad Nowadays


Idolator just linked to a great piece chronicling the rise of indie slow-burners The National, currently touring with R.E.M. and Modest Mouse.

I had their Boxer in the lower half of my 2007 top ten, but it turns out even six months' consideration wasn't enough to properly rate that masterpiece of an album. If I had it to do over again, it'd be #2. Easily. It's been almost a year now, and I'm STILL discovering things. New shit just keeps coming to light. How can something make so little of an impression, and then make such an unmistakable one? It's beyond my comprehension... and I'm a pretty smart motherfucker.

That is, in a nutshell, what the linked story is all about. These guys REALLY know what they're doing, and they were absolutely nowhere for five years. So how does this happen?

Fascinating reading for anyone who's into them... or, really, anyone who's marginally curious about how a great band, toiling in anonymity in spite of their best efforts, can plow forward anyway. (And, of course, hit the jackpot in the end.)

One side note: I get that the author has a personal relationship with The National, and that their tourmates, R.E.M., are the blueprint for slow-burning success... but what of their other tourmates, Modest Mouse? Their career trajectory makes the author's point even better than The National does! I wasn't on the front lines for them, but it's not as if The Lonesome Crowded West or The Moon & Antarctica were instant oatmeal. And there was a long, inactive period between those albums and the "Float On" phenomenon. Given that a correlation was drawn to R.E.M., and that the tour as a whole intentionally features slow-burning acts, it certainly feels more like a singling out of Modest Mouse for some reason than clarifying the argument. Just an observation.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jump In The Line

Been a long time since I've listened to Harry Belafonte.

I was sitting at home the other night, minding my own business, when I found myself humming to nobody in particular... jump in the line, rock your body in time, OK, I believe you...

That led me down two separate lines of nostalgic superlatives: remembering that Beetlejuice is one of my favorite movies (and characters) ever, and remembering that Belafonte was the best Muppet Show guest ever. I dare you to watch this video without feeling warm.

Thank goodness for the Interwebs... without YouTube, I'd have had to go out and buy something to feel that good.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Got Chokes And Chokes And Chokes...

Choke, a film adaptation of one of Chuck Palahniuk's better novels, is coming down the pike in a few months. This pleases me tremendously. Fight Club was a coup for him, but Palahniuk's scolding, snide voice is too important to be adapted just once every ten years.

Choke probably wouldn't have been my first choice for a Palahniuk adaptation, since the story backbone isn't quite as strong as Fight Club or the equally satirical Survivor. His post-Fight Club stuff has this nasty habit of indulging and exploring a good idea without bringing it to rest on the right note (see Lullaby).

Then again, even top-notch Palahniuk is wandering and unfocused (with the exception of the notorious Guts) so Choke is as good a choice as any. Besides, it's a riotously funny book. And sexy, as you can tell from the YouTube freeze-frame down there. If Clark Gregg has clarified those pesky narrative strands, this should be a winner.

(The un-embeddable QuickTime version is way less dark, much easier to see.)

As for the trailer... I deduct 10 points for using Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (a.k.a. "Jeff repellent") on the soundtrack, but everything else is aces. The wicked sense of humor looks intact, and the roguish Sam Rockwell is the ideal lead for pretty much any Palahniuk story. I can definitely see him referring to his penis as his "dog." Which is key.

Iron Man

A neat little movie. The core idea and how it plays out is pretty excellent. Where most comic book franchises are somehow rooted in youth and the transition to adulthood, Iron Man is unabashedly adult and middle-aged by comparison. It's not Amadeus or The English Patient or anything, but simply adding a little maturity to the equation does wonders.

Iron Man is in many ways a scolding response to the shallowness of Transformers. The erroneous cynicism of the Michael Bay movie ("admit it, asshole, you just want to see robots beating the shit out of each other") is reversed ("you are going to love Tony Stark... also, he beats the shit out of some robots"), resulting in a movie with quite a bit more heart. So to speak.

Beyond the obvious character/conceptual advantages, the nucleus of Iron Man's plausibility is the time the filmmakers take to show us how the suit works. You get a detailed, tactile introduction to how it's built, how it evolves over time, the specific capabilities. During the fight scenes, you know exactly what's going on, and you believe that the suit can perform as it does. The action isn't ground-breaking or kinetic on its own or anything, but at least you know who's punching who. It's still CGI, but the effort made to ground the suit in reality pays off when asses starts getting beaten.

On the other hand, I couldn't tell you a damn thing about who did what to whom in a single fight in Transformers. Couldn't tell you how they inhabit the cars they choose to impersonate, what moves they were executing on each other while the camera was flying through their legs, etc. The fight sequences may have a greater sense of grandeur (the Iron Man finale seems to have little effect on anyone but the three principals) but what does it matter if you don't know what you just saw? (THEY JUST KICK ASS, OKAY? YOU LOVE ROBOTS BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER, SO SHUT UP!!!) Jon Favreau may not know kinetics, or demand things to be awesome*, but at least he and his team can put together a coherent action sequence.

Then there's Tony Stark himself. The pitfall for this character would be the Superman Problem, where invincibility breeds boredom. But he's so rooted in plausibility and rakish charm that minor details like funding sources and sentient robots go down smooth, like the medicine buried in a spoonful of sugar. Not much more needs to be said about Robert Downey, Jr.'s superstar turn, except to comment that it not only continues a recent tradition of "serious" Hollywood personalities slumming it with genre movies, but also provides us with a competitor to Johnny Depp for Beloved Weirdo Of The Moment. I have a feeling RDJ is going to cement that status once Tropic Thunder drops.

Anyway, enjoyed myself a lot. Not perfect, not a rules-changing phenomenon or anything, but definitely a good movie, and one that should be fun to see playing ten times a day on TNT in a couple years. All in all, I give Iron Man four iterations of the suit out of five.

* - I actually really enjoyed this commercial. You get a clear idea of which items on his patio are exploding, and when. Not that hard!