Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I am Lost


Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #34: Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.


The first time I heard "Take Me Out" was at a friend's wedding. He and his new wife were gleefully stomping around the dance floor at the song's first few notes. My friend happens to be a huge music fan who is always up on the latest trends. I have no idea if he gave the DJ some helpful requests (read: demands) or I was simply behind the curve. Either way, in that moment I knew I was hearing something special.

For all the fawning heaped upon The Strokes when their wholly derivative debut became a smashing success, Franz Ferdinand was the band taking punk rock into the next millennium. Their hit single didn't sound identical to Tom Petty's "American Girl." It was something new. If I were counting down the top songs of the 00s, there is no question that it would end up in the top ten. I must confess that this has been my go-to karaoke song ever since that wedding. It's easy to sing and nobody can hear it without being won over. That it's shown up in countless commercials and hasn't lost its luster is testament to its greatness.

"Take Me Out" is the unquestionable triumph on the album. None of the other songs can compete with it. But "The Dark of the Matinee," "This Fire," and "40'" are all respectable tracks. As the band has shown on two subsequent releases, that's pretty much how they roll. Put together two or three superb songs and let the rest of the tracks just hang around. That's not to say the other songs are bad. They do a decent job of hanging around, supporting the real winners. Outside of "Take Me Out," it's not the most relistenable album, but gets high distinction for what it accomplished - bringing 1960s pre-punk to 2000s pop. The decade was littered with "Post-punk / New Wave Revival", from The Killers to The Bravery to The White Stripes, but nobody did a better job of adhering to those roots and making something compelling. They deserve credit for standing out from the crowd.





Previous Entries:
#35 - Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela
#36 - Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
#37 - Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
#44 - José González - In Our Nature


Monday, January 25, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #35: Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.


The first note we hear is Gabriela's curt rap of the knuckles on the side of her guitar. It's probably the simplest form of music there is, just a percussive beat. Yet in that moment it indicates where the album is heading. I'm pretty sure there are no overdubs on this record, just two Mexican guitarists frenetically strumming. The first thing you notice is now agile they are. Having built up their chops playing heavy metal in Mexico city, the duo spent their free time exploring other forms of music, arriving at this hybrid of Metal and Flamenco. In the meantime, they moved to Dublin even though they spoke no English. It's hardly the most common or even sensible plan, but it has all worked out for Rodrigo y Gabriela.

Perhaps to make clear to everyone their roots, they include covers of Led Zeppelin and Metallica. "Stairway to Heaven" comes off as novelty by the second listen, but their take on Metallica's Orion is inspired. To be sure, much of the credit belongs to the band who wrote the song in the first place. Still, R&G are the ones who chose to cover it, and they play the fuck out of it on two acoustic guitars. I'm not going to aver that the sound is as rich and full as the Master of Puppets version, but I'll be damned if they don't come close.

I dug the album right away, but wasn't totally won over until I caught them live. Seeing them in person drove home how difficult it is to play these songs, and also how effortless they make it seem. What they do is physically impossible without extensive training. Gabriela's hand was a cartoonish blur for the entire set. She's a sure bet for tendinitis when she gets old.

One could argue that this is a small record. There are no vocals, and only nine tracks that wrap up in under 43 minutes. But there is no doubting it's a fun record, great for playing in the background of a party or privately head-bopping with headphones on. I expected to get a bit tired of it, but perhaps moving to Argentina has helped keep it in the rotation. The locals aren't quite ready for Hot Water Music, and this always seems to be a fan favorite. They have a new album I've yet to hear that has received raves. Perhaps in time it will knock this impressive release out of my list. I can't wait to find out!





Previous Entries:
#36 - Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
#37 - Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
#44 - José González - In Our Nature
#45 - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One Word Review: Street Kings



43: Crooked

*Note - Nearly got a review of "Keanued", but there were enough other problems to supersede his performance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #36: Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.


How many friggin' bands with "Wolf" in their name made their way onto the scene in the 00s? There's Wolfmother, Wolf Eyes, Seasons of the Wolf, Guitar Wolf, We Are Wolves, Sea Wolf, and Castle Wolfenstein IV! OK, so the last one isn't a band name (yet). I'm sure nobody planned it that way, but it quickly became difficult to keep all these damn lobos straight. I still struggle, but Wolf Parade has managed to make an indelible mark on my memory thanks to their 2008 release, At Mount Zoomer. Actually, I had done a decent job getting to know them before that - back when I had SIRIUS radio, their "Left of Center" channel was playing "You are Runner and I Am My Father's Son" every hour on the hour. I never once liked that song. But eventually, I checked out the album and found that it had one incredible piece of music on it, the energetic "I'll Believe in Anything." Though the rest of the album did little for me, that one piece of success was enough to get me intrigued in the next release.

The band found their stride here, living up to the potential displayed on that one track. The first song is like a train rolling downhill. But the ride is easy. We're never worried about jumping the tracks. What follows is an album of songs comprised of rusty hooks piled on top of each other. The first half of the record keeps building the momentum until its centerpiece, "California Dreamer." This song has more peaks than any I can think of. Once it kicks in it just keeps coming at you. We get to breathe again for about a minute and a half before the song steadily grows again, even more intensely than the first crescendo.

After a quick breather for a song and a half, "Fine Young Cannibals" begins to nudge to the brilliant coda that is the last two songs. "An Animal in Your Care," is like nothing I've heard before. Honestly, the beginning is borderline terrible. It's whiny and theatrical. But two minutes in, the song changes completely and marches us forward, dragging us with those aforementioned rusty hooks. This all sets us up for "Kissing the Beehive," a ten-minute ramble that feels like a hit pop song. Yet one that features the line "You held your cock in the air and you called it a guitar. You put your face on the glass and you called it good cinnamon..." I can't get enough of this song. I don't pretend to understand any of it. I just know that when it plays, I feel enveloped by it, and have (so far) replayed at least twice every time it has come on. It's like the band sat down to write an "epic" track just for me. Don't think I don't appreciate it. Judge for yourself:

California Dreamer
video
Kissing the Beehive
video

Previous Entries:
#37 - Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
#44 - José González - In Our Nature
#45 - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
#46 - Caribou - Andorra


Monday, January 18, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

A to B Back and Forth Review: 500 Days of Summer, Part II

Yesterday, Kozy and I started with our analysis of 500 Days of Summer, posting Part I of our back and forth conversation. So yeah, read that first. Today we conclude with Part II.

BRAD

Hey Andrew,

I saw (500) Days of Summer twice in the cinema. That is a lot for me. Normally I won’t see a movie twice in any format, even if I think it is great. My second screening was with two friends. Following a noon show we all walked out onto a sun filled Amsterdam street with smiles on our faces and bliss in our hearts. That was the exact sentiment from all 3 of us.

We were happy. I did not have to spend the following days thinking "what do I make of this movie?" like after Inglorious Basterds. No. I just lived in the moment and enjoyed my ear-to-ear grin. What more can I ask from a movie, really?

To assert that this movie is 99.4% hipster and then criticize it for that reason seems a tad hypocritical. As a blogger currently ranking the top 50 albums of the 2000s, many with titles that nobody outside the hipster indie music scene have heard of you walk a fine line.
Look at those cute little Hipsters!

I realize that you are not a self identified RomCom fan, but surly you would choose a hip, innovate ‘gimmick’ movie (your word), over any of 2009’s generous offering of bad romantic comedies. I defy you to find a film from this list better than (500) Days of Summer. The Proposal, Couples Retreat, He’s Just Not That Into You, Ghost of Girlfriends Past, All About Steve, New in Town, Jennifer’s Body, I Love You Beth Cooper, Away We Go. Only a few of these films were tolerable, and only one was, dare I say good; and that one, Away We Go, was slapped with your exact same criticism as being too ‘hipster’.

So did I read your email right – your biggest knock on (500) is that it has an “excellent” gimmick? That it tries too hard to be off-beat, clever and different? If that is the case, then I think you should just declare yourself genre opposed and step away from the category.

Anyways, Tom is not hipster. He is cool in that undiscovered way. A hidden gem if you will. He is hip in the romantic Lloyd Dobler sense, but not in the Tyler Durden rock star kind of way. Clearly, like Dobler he is inexperienced in relationships and that is part of his appeal. Luckily Tom’s got a plucky little sister who is smart and funny without crossing into the dreaded Juno territory of acting and speaking like someone twice her age.

Maybe there is a good reason you and your friends could not define a hipster. Hip people tend to be critical and uncompromising. Frankly I am surprised at your distant view of hipsters. Maybe that means you are one...

Cheers,
Brad

ANDREW

My main man!

Why is it that on the movies where we disagree, even slightly, you bounce back armed with an ad hominem using cherrypicked evidence from this here blog? First I'm not sufficiently nerdy to appreciate Science Fiction and now I'm not allowed to like a Romantic Comedy? You know that I think that 80% of them are terrible, and your helpful list serves to drive that point home. 80% of them are terrible. I don't begrudge your smile, and I didn't hate this movie. I in no way implied that it's in the lousy 80%. Perhaps my observations were too highbrow; but then again a sunny smile is not exactly a review.

Here's where I'm netting out. The movie was creative in its gimmick, and yes, I'm going to keep using that word. It's a great way to approach a relationship because it's exactly how we view them at the end. That they tell us right up front that this is not a love story, so we really shouldn't get our hopes up. That they deliver on the promise makes it all the more unique within the RomCom genre.
A gimmicky photo, yet this gimmick is also quite worthwhile, hmm?

I brought up the Hipster approach to this movie as observation, not attack. Though I do think that there were cop-outs galore. Characters were built on superficiality, with Hipster counterculture being the vehicle. But as I said before, this is a great way for the movie to make its point. Tom falls in love for reasons that are largely superficial. It blinds him into thinking he has a real relationship. (Speaking of, Paste Magazine presents the the ten year Evolution of the Hipster.)

As far as my biggest knock on this movie, it is that it just wasn't very funny. I found its most "creative" scenes, like the post-copulation dance routine to be pretty hackneyed humor - the kind of stuff you saw on Friends ten years ago. Besides that, they totally distracted the viewer from the main story. But the overall concept made the film worthwhile. There are thoughts to be provoked here. We grow up. We get better at this whole dating thing - not necessarily at "bagging chicks," but getting into relationships that work. That's how you got yourself a wonderful wife, superior in every way to Raquel. I'm in a great relationship, one I would have surely screwed up ten years ago. You get the feeling that Tom will be there one day, too, though it may take him a lot longer than a mere 500 additional days...

So we agree to (kind of) disagree on this film. I'm in no hurry to watch it again, but I'm sure one day I'll give it another peek. Maybe you're already gunning for round three!

Until next time (most likely a certain James Cameron vehicle...?), Saludos y un abrazo muy fuerte!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #37: Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.


In the 90s, Archers of Loaf was a band I missed out on fully appreciating. I caught on to them at the tail end of their career and sadly never saw them in concert. In their final album, one could kind of see the direction frontman Eric Bachmann was taking his career. Crooked Fingers' debut album was a complete departure from the angst-filled riffing that was the Archers trademark sound. Bachmann had matured and left his outward-looking anger behind him. Somehow, the transition worked superbly.

While some could argue his voice travels dangerously close to that of Neil Diamond, the music overwhelms whatever Cracklin' Rosie sonic connotations may linger. It is more simply summed as a version of Tom Waits, just three steps more modern. That's not to say the albums don't sound rustic. Just a bit, I dunno, emotionally open (yes, I was avoiding the word metrosexual). Bachmann does the most he can with his rasp. His songs give you the urge to alternately invest yourself in hearing every last detail or simply sing along.

Choosing one of their five albums released during the decade was no easy task. While the first was easily the most accessible, it's not like we're talking about prog rock here. Because Red Devil Dawn is the strongest from top to bottom, it wins by a snout. From the very first track, it is clear that Bachmann and his band have put together something special. "Big Darkness" has a lot more light than bleakness. The lyrics are a total downer, but they belie the feel of the music. Or maybe it's the other way around. The song skips ahead as Bachmann gleefully chants, "I saw a vulture swarming up above the dying crowd, above the villains and the heroes and the down and out." When he hints at a hero coming soon, you believe that he must be on his way, too.

Perhaps this album just came along at a good time in my life, but even though the songs are apparently meant to be morose, they all have an upbeat feel to me. Even lines like, "The moment that we turn away, the gods will say that the love we made was a lie," come off as hopeful and winning. At 41 minutes, it's a short record, but one that is loaded with heart. I feel like even though I've owned it since 2003, there's still more to discover. I'm still looking forward to future spins, full of hope of course.

I'd prefer to give you the album versions, especially when it's a version that's dramatically different, but Youtube is rather sparse with Crooked Fingers and I don't have the time to upload. Enjoy these anyway!




Previous Entries:
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk
#44 - José González - In Our Nature
#45 - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
#46 - Caribou - Andorra
#47 - Mastodon - Crack the Skye


A to B Back and Forth Review: 500 Days of Summer, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our seventh review - 500 Days of Summer.

BRAD

Hey Andrew!
It's official. I'm in love with Summer. I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.

After being bathed in revisionist history gore with Inglorious Basterds, I am more than ready to move on to modern day Los Angeles and something lighter. 500 Days of Summer is a romance and a comedy. But as the narrator quickly tells us, it is not a love story. Tragedy is also a central theme. So instead of labeling it a RomCom, I’d call it a TrageRcom. Or a ComRomedy. But definitely not a downer!
500 Days of Summer begins at the end of a relationship, doubles back to experience those first amazing stomach butterflies and awkward conversations, and then traverses the relationship highlights in between. Most of the highlights deal with the post-breakup phase. This is the period where the dumpee suffers intolerable depression, goes crazy second guessing himself and in general, more than anything obsesses over every detail of the relationship.
Brad's new movie crush - much cuter than Edward Furlong, no?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a trained architect who has taken the lazy way out and instead works as a writer for a greeting-card company. Zooey Deschanel (or as my wife likes to call her Zooey Douche-bagger) is Summer, a young woman who's just taken a job as an assistant to the head of the company.

Deschanel plays Summer as that hot hipster chick you see at Rainbow Club on Division in Chicago. The kind of girl you look at twice and then keep peering at all night long just to see what she’s doing and to maybe try and figure out what she’s thinking. She is also the kind of girl that is so good looking and stylized that you're led to assume she must be a pretentious bitch. At the start, this is exactly what Tom thinks of Summer. But when she approaches him on the way into the office he quickly realizes this is a cool girl - they like the same music!

What was so magical about 500 Days is its relate-ability; both at the best and worst of times. I felt like I was Tom, or at least we would be friends. I think nearly every guy out there has had his Summer. The girl that you thought was perfect, but for some reason or another she couldn’t feel the same way about you. For me it was Raquel (names have been changed to protect the innocent). She was young, exciting, beautiful and she liked me. But as time moved on the chemistry wore thin. Later in my dating life I would simply move on when things didn’t work, but when I was 20-something I didn’t give up so easily.

While Zooey and Gordon are fantastic, I think more than anything this films success belongs to its writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. Funny and thoughtful lines abound, and a quirky black-and-white section and a dance number kept me engaged. OK, maybe I’ve been gushing too much. In a rare move for us, I saw this film first and recommended it to you. So tell me, what did you think of this flick?

Ciao,
Kozy

ANDREW

Hiya Brad!

Yes, you recommended the film to me, but followed strict guidelines of saying nothing more. I appreciate that. I was already excited to see it, in large part because of Deschanel's presence. I adore her, and have ever since the first time I saw Almost Famous. Hell, her scenes even made Failure to Launch tolerable (well, only when she was onscreen, but that's still Oscar-worthy work right there). The narrator set her up to be some sort of irresistible goddess, but I have to say I found this to be one of her least compelling roles. She just kind of floated through this film, but perhaps that's with good reason. She's not the one in love. She's inherently distant and aloof, something she rarely brings to a role. I take it your wife doesn't share my fondness for Zooey? That's a shame, 'cause she's going to be around for a really long time.

During a trip to Colombia last weekend the topic of "Hipsters" came up. We were trying to explain the concept to some Argentine and Colombian friends. It was not easy, partly because each American had their own slightly different view of what a Hipster actually is. That same claim would apply to the filmmakers, but it's clear that they wanted to embrace their version of the concept. The film spends every second screaming HipsterHipsterHipsterHipster in the most overt ways possible. I mean come on, Ringo Starr? Summer even goes so far as to tell us the only reason she likes him is that nobody else does.

Tom wears Joy Division t-shirts and listens to The Smiths, but also spends time in a tie and sweatervest. He shows up at work with his oversized headphones blatantly on display. His work is at a greeting card company - not exactly Initech. But that's deemed not creative enough of a job by the filmmakers, so he must reach for something more lofty, uhhh.... I know - architecture!
I think I saw this dude get thrown out of the empty bottle for smoking Winstons in the bathroom.

I must tell you that I find it hilarious that you said you might be friends with Tom, because I was all set to mention that you've long had a penchant for Hipster friends. Don't get me wrong, you know I really dig your Hipster friends. They are too cool! But given that background, I can see why you like this movie so much. For me, it was a bit of an overload. The obvious musical cues, fashion, and trips to Ikea simply to make fun of it... I'll put it this way. I knew we were going to hear a song by Feist. I was waiting for it. I just couldn't believe that they actually threw it in during the wedding of a 40-something black couple.

One could argue that though the film is 99.4% pure Hipster, Tom is supposedly only a pseudo-Hipster because he's such a romantic. My only problem with this is that he is so completely removed in every scene with Summer. Sure, she intimidates him, but women don't go for guys that always respond, "I don't know, whatever you want to do" when asked "What do you want to do?" I think many of us aloof pseudo hipsters have learned this the hard way. Then again, perhaps that's the point. He thinks the superficial stuff should have been enough and therefore equal love. That list you read at the outset - does any of it really mean anything? Yes, it does when you're 20. But not at 34...

Given all those complaints, and though this movie doesn't really connect with its own characters, it does an excellent job of showing that some relationships simply aren't meant to be. And sometimes it's just because it's not meant to be for only one person. If you're calling yours Raquel, I'm going to call my Dolores. I'm sure every guy who ever liked the same band as a cute girl has a Dolores.

At its core, I think this movie is really just a gimmick, but an excellent one. It puts the relationship in clear relief in the same way we all do in those miserable days after they end. Despite the light treatment, they find the right tone in the end, and make a movie that's easily relatable. Thank goodness we've moved past this point in life, eh?

I'm curious to hear your reaction to my reaction. I also have a question for you. Is Tom supposed to be cool? Hes clearly cooler than his loser friends, but clearly nowhere near as cool as his 14 year old precocious sister...

Abrazo!
A

Tune in tomorrow for Part II where Brad and Andrew will get a bit chippy as they continue to argue the merits of this TragerCom...

Previous A to Bs:
Inglorious Basterds
Public Enemies
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Watchmen
Star Trek
Terminator 4: Salvation

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back in the saddle?

Hey there kiddos! So I've heard a few grumbles about the whole "no posting thing." I'm armed with plenty of excuses. First, the age-old curse of the blogger: work. Work is very, very, extremely busy these days. Second, I was on vacation. I live in Argentina. I gotta see more than just the city. Third, major computer problems. But I have every intention of getting back on the horse and blogging. Starting now with a link to something somebody else wrote.

There have been loads of Top Ten Movies of the Decade lists out there. (NOTE: Eric from Scene Stealers has a particularly good one). But Frank Beaver, my college film professor, probably one of the people that made me really start appreciating movies, has a somewhat different approach. He eventually gets around to his favorites of the decade (with which I really don't overlap at all), but first takes the historian's approach by looking at the most important trends and changes of the last ten years. We spend so much time getting excited about the next film, we often fail to see the big picture. So let's learn a bit.

I have a lot more in the hopper. Fingers crossed that I have the time to get it to you.