Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Descendants (Clooney, the modern Cary Grant?)

George Clooney has the charm and looks to play a typical ladies man, but he never does. He always chooses to play his roles with a dark sense of humor, a sly wit, as if he is winking at the audience. Clooney doesn't take himself too seriously and therefore creates an even more attractive character, a character that lets the audience in rather than alienating them to admire him from afar.  Another actor who had this ability and did it better than anyone was the immortal Cary Grant.  Never has this characteristic been more present than in George Clooney's role as Max King in director Alexander Payne's The Descendants.
Payne is known for dark comedies that border on tragedy: Election (1999, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick), About Schmidt (2002, Jack Nicholson), and Sideways (2004, Paul Gimatti and Thomas Hayden Church). His films deal primarily with men who are very very flawed and are somehow seeking, although not always successfully, some sort of redemption and peace of mind. Max King opens the film with his narration; " My friends on the mainland think that just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. We're all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we're immune to human life?"

Max King is a descendant of one of Hawaii's first white land owning families (his great great grandmother was Hawaiian and his great great grandfather, white). He faces a decision about whether to sell his land to tourist and condo development, therefore making his large collection of broke relatives rich, or hold on to the sacred integrity of the virgin land. While this is happening Max faces a traumatic crisis with his wife who, as of 23 days ago, has slipped into a coma after a tragic boating accident. He is faced with the realization that his wife is not going to recover, and that she has left instructions in her will to be taken off of life support.
Max is left with the task of informing all of their friends and relatives about her death. He recruits his two dysfunctional daughters Alexandre (17) played by Shailene Woodley and Scottie (10) played by Amara Miller to come along for emotional support.  As this task is set in motion Max finds out that his wife was having an ongoing affair right up until her accident. If it seems as though I am giving too much away, I assure you I am not. This is all set up very quickly and the rest of the film deals with what follows. There are so many great characters, including Alexandre's boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who accompanies Max and his daughters throughout the film. There are a couple of scenes where he steals the show.

 Hawaii plays a huge role in the film, not just as a back drop, but really as a central character. Max deals with the sub plot of his connection with the land as he deals with the loss of his wife, and his reconnection with his daughters. Much is to be said for Clooney's ability to work with younger, less experienced actors and really make them shine. He did it with Anna Kendrick in Up In The Air also. She spoke very highly of his coaching and supportive advice during filming. Another actor was known for doing this with his less experienced co-stars, once again Mr. Cary Grant.

Cary Grant made other actors look good, and no one knew what he was doing behind the scenes to accomplish this. Clooney is that kind of actor. We want to watch how everyone reacts to him and what they will do next. This is very rare when dealing with such a high profile celebrity. The relationship between Max and his daughters is adorable, but not simple. He is trying so hard but he just doesn't quite get what it is he is supposed to get from all of this tragedy. He wants to get it, he really does, but like many of us he fumbles awkwardly and blindly trying to figure out what "it" is. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Take Shelter

In my last movie blog I talked about symbolism in the Kubrick masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut, a film that seemed to be purely symbolic. Take Shelter is a film where the symbolism is also very literal. That is, it works both as a purely symbolic work and also a very real thriller aimed at the heart of America. Curtis LaForche (played by Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon) is a loving husband, a caring father to his hearing impaired daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), and has a decent job as a construction worker.  He is the everyman from Ohio and the contented soul many of us would envy.
This is all good until he starts having nightmares that seem so real they are more like visions. He dreams the family dog will attack him, that storms are coming, he wakes up with morning panic attacks. Knowing that the dreams might mean something, he makes a pen outside for the family dog. His wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) is bothered by this because the dog is a house dog and has always been friendly with his daughter. His dreams of the storms persist and now he is seeing actual clouds gathering on the horizon - dark ominous and coming for his family. Director Jeff Nichols adds a stroke of brilliance by showing these clouds gathering above Curtis when he is awake and then drizzling and oily rain onto his hands, suggesting that what Curtis is sensing is real.  Also, Curtis lives in an area where people have storm shelters and tornadoes are common.

Much like the Richard Dreyfuss character in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Curtis is driven by something only he can see and something only he knows the importance of. 
Curtis begins borrowing equipment from work and getting loans to build out his storm shelter. He seeks help from local mental health physicians who aren't really qualified. We find out Curtis' mother was diagnosed with mental health problems, and now lives in an assisted living home. He visits her to find out if he some how has inherited this gene in his psyche. Nothing is making his visions go away and he is a man holding on by the threads of sanity. 
This movie is unique because the director doesn't harp on the usual melodrama that we would expect. Samantha is terrified but she doesn't turn on her husband even though the whole town thinks he is insane. Curtis doesn't become abusive or unidentifiable as he loses his grasp on reality.  This is a sincere film about something many of us are feeling right now, that the world  is not right. No matter what we believe, no matter what our political affiliation, we know there are storms brewing and we can see them as clear as if they were right on our door step. You don't have to watch the news to know this, this feeling is everywhere.

In Take Shelter there is a "twist ending", but not so much of a twist that you go "come on!" No, this twist ending is like the rest of the film, subtle and brilliant.  I for one am fed up with twist endings that seem to come from out of nowhere and have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Does anyone else agree?? Also, this is not a depressing film. This is an aware film. There is a difference, to me anyway. Above all this movie is an enjoyable ride. The actors are brilliant, the directing and writing top notch, and no special gimmicks are needed to make this happen. Just pure marvelous film making - kind of like the old days before CGI.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


 Among the many excellent tunes I have blasting from my speakers right now, the females are impressing me the most. Last year female releases dominated music with Jill Scott, The Joy Formidable, Beyonce, Tune-Yards, Sophie Hunger, Little Dragon, Lady Ga Ga, St.Vincent,Wild Flag, Nneka and many many others. 2012 hasn't shown signs of turning the reigns over to males anytime soon. As Beyonce says in her female anthem Run The World (Girls); "My persuasion can build a nation".

FIONNA APPLE - THE IDLER'S WHEEL IS WISER THAN THE DRIVER OF THE SCREW AND WHIPPING CHORDS WILL SERVE YOU MORE THAN ROPES WILL EVER DO:  Fionna Apple doesn't just redefine dark music with bitter soul, she IS dark music with bitter soul. She owns pain in away few other artists ever have. Pain is her muse and we the audience benefit greatly. Fionna has kept this album a great secret for six years, allowing no press or visitors of any kind. Unique to her approach is the use of only acoustic instruments, as in only real pianos, real drums, and acoustic upright bass. So the result is incredible on the numbers when she goes off into jazz passages. The percussion of the stand up bass echoes beautifully with the resounding boom of her piano, not many pianists can make a piano boom like Fionna! And of course those lyrics..."My heart's made of parts of all that's around me, maybe that's why the devil just can't get around me."

NORAH JONES - LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS: Lookout Fionna Apple, Norah Jones got dark too! Perhaps because this album came after a nasty break-up. She and producer Danger Mouse(who co-wrote and played on the album as well) went into the studio with no songs written before hand. The two collaborated brilliantly on two songs from Rome(Last year's fictional Italian movie soundtrack by composer Daniel Luppi and Danger Mouse).  Little Broken Hearts delivered on Rome's promise. She speaks here about heart break in a much heavier way than anything she has previously attempted. Norah even threatens to kill the female that stole her man!"Now I'm not the jealous type, never been the killing kind. But you know I know what you did, so don't put up a fight." I am so proud of my longtime crush Miss Norah Jones! And Danger Mouse has proven he has consistent brilliance.

REGINA SPEKTOR - WHAT WE SAW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS: This one goes down as the sweetest and most hopeful album I have heard this year. Regina Spektor is optimistic about trauma without denying the weight of life's burdens. Consider the following lyrics: "Love what you have and you'll have more love. You're not dying...Everyone knows you're going to love...though there's still no cure for the crying." Spektor was born in Russia but studied classical piano in New York, this might account for her unique sound. One can hear touches of The Beatles (specifically Abbey Road) , and also circus-like melodies, something you might hear from Doris Day if she hung out with Neil Young. But none of that is to say this is retro. No What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is totally modern in it's concepts and production value. Music for broken hearts that refuse to quit smiling.

EMA - PAST LIFE MARTYRD SAINTS:  I always get a little more curious about just what Erika M. Anderson(EMA) has come up with here. This is an album you can purchase and still be chewing on a year later. I knew I liked it, but I couldn't tell you exactly why or what it was. Her attitude is punk, her sound is hypnotic, with vocals that land between spoken word and a soulful howl - bringing to mind Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Bjork, The Flaming Lips and even R.E.M. There's really only one real rocker on the album, Milkman(also a single), but not once does Past Life get boring or soft. Every song presents a different style and form, there is no uniform structure on the whole. So obviously I still can't figure EMA out, but I can't wait to see what she comes out with next. I am hooked!

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS - I LEARNED THE HARD WAY: This album came out in 2010 but it could have been released in 1960 on Chess Records. It is impossible not to hear Etta James and Ruth Brown in the powerhouse voice of Sharon Jones. The Dap Kings hail from Brooklyn, NY and have pioneered a revivalist movement of  60's funk and Soul on their own label Daptone Records. In order to achieve this sound they have done away with all digital recording, going with only older analog equipment (a technique also favored by Jack White of The White Stripes) and through using vintage instruments as opposed to updated equipment. Charles Bradley's 2011 album No Time For Dreaming (also on Daptone Records) follows this same format, channeling the sounds of Otis Redding and James Brown. For old school Soul fans this revivalist movement is music heaven!

Friday, August 17, 2012

2011: The Year That Music Got Better! (Pt.2)

More of my favorite picks from 2011:

CUT/COPY - ZONOSCOPE: Zonoscope is the third release from Australian pop/synth band Cut/ Copy. Listening to it I found the reminiscence of early eighties pop kind of spooky. The opening song Need You Now sets the tone for a fascinating New Order-esque retro pop journey that stays strong through the album's closing track, a fifteen minute electronic opus called Sun God.  The hooks are catchy, the choruses fused with Regan-era idealism and more than a replica or eighties rehash band, Cut/Copy seems to have been transplanted through time while riding with Michael J. Fox in his DeLorean. Though Zonoscope is primarily a mellow ride and never really shifts gears , I found the hypnotic trance to be a fun and addictive ride indeed.

FLEET FOXES - HELPLESSNESS BLUES:   Fleet Foxes are one of the bands this past year that "had me at hello". On the first track, Montezuma, singer/songwriter Robin  Pecknold opens with the following lyrics: "Now I am older than my mother and father, when they had their daughter. What does that say about me? Oh how could I dream of such a selfless and true love, could I wash my hands of just looking out for me." Wow - right? Helplessness Blues is a gorgeous symphony full of introspection and soulful longing set to soaring choruses of harmonies and beautiful acoustic melodies. Think Neil Young on a nature retreat with a copy of Thoreau's "Walden."

THE KILLS - BLOOD PRESSURES:   This is The Kills fourth studio album so they are not newcomers to the scene, but comparisons to The White Stripes are inevitable. A guy/girl duo with a sparse garage rock sound, punctuated by heavy blues beats and raunchy punk rock attitude. The Kills distinguish themselves, however, by taking cues from experimental rockers like The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith. The commanding, seductive vocals of American singer Alison Mosshart interweave flawlessly with the dirty punk rock guitar riffs of the U.K. born Jamie Hince. The result is an ear pleasing, booty shaking, kick in the jugular with a stiletto heel, balls out, rock 'n roll experience.

TUNE-YARDS - WHO KILL:  Mariel Garbus' project Tune-Yards is a storm of looped beats, layered with African rhythms, ukeles, pots and pans from her kitchen (literally!), her own crazy/beautiful vocals, electric bass, horn sections, and anything else she can get her hands on to make a song.  Mariel's  2009 release Bird-Brains was recorded on a handheld voice recorder and self-released on a recycled cassette tape. Tune-Yards' second release, Who Kill, has garnered attention from Rolling Stone, Spin, and the New York Times. This is the stuff dreams are made of kids!  To say Who Kill is experimental is an understatement, but there is also something so warm and familiar about this album. Like good conversation over a great cup of really strong coffee.

JAY-Z & KANYE WEST - WATCH THE THRONE:  Leave it to Jay-Z to point out that Kanye isn't just a pompous ass. He has actual talent.  Niggas in Paris and  Otis(Jay-Z and Kanye rap over Otis Redding's vocals looped to a sick bass beat) are among a few choice tracks, reminding us that often the most talented artists are also the most fun.  Jay-Z and Kanye also take time on New Day to talk to their children about not making the same mistakes they made. We of course get to hear about Beyonce once or twice and then Kanye says about his own child's mother;  "I woulda never let his ma move to L.A. She couldn't take the pressure now we all pray". So it's not all just silliness and that's what makes Watch The Throne a great album and not just this year's guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eyes Wide Shut: Adventures In Dreamland

Kicking off my first movie blog in a while I would like to throw some thoughts down about Eyes Wide Shut.  When Eyes Wide Shut came out I remember hearing something different from everyone that viewed the film. Some hated it profusely calling it overindulgent, incomprehensible, hedonistic and signs that old man Kubrick had gone insane. Many had concluded the latter because of the well publicized fact that Kubrick kept his actors on his London estate for two years during filming.  Others said it was brilliant and a perfect send off for a film genius. I saw the film after it had been out a year or so and I was blown away. I can't say I understood it - but I was happy not to This is a film, like all other Kubrick films, where you have to put yourself completely in the hands of the filmmaker and trust that he is going to guide you along knowledgeably and that he does indeed know where he's going.
That being said, I would like to discuss the meanings of the film, the colors, the plot, and the characters. First of all I feel to accurately view this film you have to look at it as a dream, or a parable. Esteemed critic and writer Roger Ebert calls it "an erotic daydream about chances missed and opportunities avoided".
In the films opening sequence, Doctor Bill and Alice Hartford (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) are attending a fancy ball for Manhattan socialites. Kubrick lights the entire scene with white Christmas lights while ballroom music plays softly in the background. Immediately the glow of the lights and music place us in a warm surrounding that also has a floating dreamlike quality. Underneath this warmth and comfort we can sense tension of the unknown.  Cruise is then propositioned by two beautiful women while Kidman is simultaneously preyed upon as she dances with a charming and devilish older Hungarian man. He questions her about her marriage and says: "Is it as bad as all of that?" She replies :"It's as good as all of that." Neither The Doctor or his wife have a reason to doubt their marriage or one another. They don't pause at being propositioned - because they are confident and have their needs met (or so they think.) Then Doctor Hartman is called up to a room where his friend who is throwing the party ,Victor (Sydney Pollack) needs help with a hooker has overdosed. A red pool table is at the center of the room - an obvious symbol here of danger. The threat of danger is getting bolder and now the story is set up for just about anything. That evening, in the privacy of their bedroom, the Hoffman's get stoned in their underwear and Alice tells Bill about a fantasy she had of a sailor she had once passed in a hotel lobby. She embellishes this fantasy to the point of picking a fight with Bill. The cause for this sudden need for a confrontation on their fidelity is unknown, except that it was brought up earlier in the evening and perhaps unearthed some buried feelings and insecurities in Alice. As she talks and continues to poke and antagonize Bill - a strong back light of blue is constantly framing her through the window,  with striking red curtains on either side. Kubrick makes this color choice so bold and obvious we can't ignore it. Blue perhaps representing the depth and mystery of what is happening in this room, and red, the danger of the fire behind it.
After this confrontation Dr. Hoffman wanders off into the night, maybe spurred into action by his wife's fantasy and seeking a fantasy of his own, or maybe just uneasy in his own skin for once and in need of something to comfort him. He goes to a night club - again we see the use of Christmas lights, but this time with shadows and highlights of bright lamps on cocktail tables. The camera movement is extremely important in supporting the "floating" dreamlike qualities of this movie as Doctor Bill is now becoming a bit like Alice in Wonderland.  Kubrick had his secrets that came from his roots as a photographer, and I know they must have been secrets because no one else can make a camera "float" through a room while capturing so much depth of light and shadows. Bill's friend plays piano at the night club and gives Bill the password to an orgy/party, where he must first purchase a costume before attending. This scene and each scene hereafter plays like it's own short film. The characters appear only once, isolated in their individual scenes and these scenes only connect with the rest of the film because Kubrick allows them to.  That's perhaps the key to the dream element of the film's structure. When we have dreams, characters come in and out of the dream with no real connection, sometimes we know them and their relationship to out dream world, sometimes not. Cruise meets a prostitute (with whom he has no sex), a costume dealer who may be offering the services of his young daughter as well as costumes, and then arrives at the films destination -a secret orgy that is about as non sexual as an orgy can be. After Kubrick's death this elaborate sequence was edited for an R rating, though I agree with many others who wish it had been left alone and released as an NC-17. The digital editing blurs genitalia and adds hooded figures to block the activities. The editing certainly interrupts the composition and the depth of the camera's general movement throughout the room. I wonder what Kubrick would have thought of this?

Oddly enough this is the film's most elaborate sequence but what occurs is not really the point of the film. It is the film's destination but it is also not the real destination at all. This is a detour for Doctor Bill, a detour into danger and a necessary detour for himself.  Another unique element of this film's structure, we are lead through a maze and adventure where we feel there is a real threat and danger and we fear for our hero, but when we arrive Kubrick holds on and expands upon those feelings while never truly paying them off.  There is a masked, cloaked figure who rules over the orgy proceedings ,naked women kneel around him in a circle and he chants something ancient and foreboding. Doctor Bill wanders through the mansion, taking it in, exchanging mysterious words with a few of the attendees.
The true destination, is home...when Doctor Bill arrives home, back to his port. This is also the film's most controversial moment.  Nothing has really been resolved but before going to bed he finds a mask, identical to the one he wore at the orgy. The mask is on his pillow next to his sleeping wife. The colors in the room are blue and purple - moonlight coming through the window. No reds, no yellows. Now is the time for those of you who have read this far to give me your opinions and insights as to what you think this means. Kubrick certainly left this open. What does the mask mean? Was she at the orgy? Does she know where he went? Is this her way of saying we are okay now that you are safe and home. I think Kubrick ended this film on a high note of warmth and comfort because we and the character's deserved it. This was a scary journey and The Hoffman's are safe in the shelter of their marriage. Kidman said she saw the film as optimistic, and I completely agree. What are your thoughts readers?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

GROOVIN ON A SUMMER AFTERNOON (Music for your summertime blues)

Summer is in full swing and, like my other Las Vegas compatriots, I am struggling  in vain to stay cool. Every year we dread it and every year we complain when it arrives...ahhhhh SUMMMER! In order to survive I have compiled a list of great jams from my music grab bag. Goes great with lemonade(or stronger beverage of your choice), ice, air conditioning, and pool parties.

Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital: Immediately upon hearing Sound Kapital by Canadian two-piece Handsome Furs I was sonically transplanted to CBGBS in it's old school New York hay-day. I heard experimental, guttural, unhinged rock - unusual for a synth pop band! I heard the smooth depth of electronic heroes Depeche Mode combined with the guitar crunch of The Jesus and Mary Chain's William Reid. Handsome Furs, made up of Husband and wife team Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry, were among the many bands going back to the eighties and nineties for inspiration in 2011, but they stand out as the most original. They have successfully taken the electronic genre and reinvented it with heart and attitude. Key tracks; "When I get Back" and "Memories of the Future".

Wild Flag - Wild Flag:  Wild Flag's four fearsome females are comprised of former indie rock/punk bands Sleeter-Kinney and Helium. They had been jamming together for over ten years as friends before recording their debut as Wild Flag, and the experience is evident. Wild Flag sounds familiar but not overdone, new and refreshing and instantly accessible. There's a lot of hand-claps and sing along chorus moments - sort of Blondie and The Go Go's if they had come of age in the nineties. Also the live recording makes great use of fuzzy rhythm guitars, retro keyboards, deep bass, razor sharp leads and machine gun drums. Key tracks; "Racehorse" and "Romance".

R.E.M. - Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011It's hard to believe that R.E.M. has been around for twenty nine years. It's also hard to believe that last year's Collapse Into Now was their final album before retirement. What makes this double cd stand above most greatest hits compilations is that it covers all of this time period in chronological order, giving listeners a coherent overview of early and most recent singles. Part Lies... is a great introduction as well as a companion piece for those already familiar with R.E.M's catalog. From early eighties college rock("Driver 8") to early nineties acoustic( "Losing My Religion"), to mid nineties alternative ("What's The Frequency Kenneth","E-Bow The Letter"), R.E.M.'s evolving sound has woven a rich tapestry and helped defined modern music.

 Panda Bear- Tomboy:  Noah Lennox( also known as Panda Bear) is cited as pioneering the genre of electronic music known as "chillwave" with his 2007 album Person Pitch. The New York Times defines "chillwave" as "solo acts or minimal bands with a laptop at their core. 80's inspired, recession era music low budget and danceable."  My definition of Tomboy is choir-like harmonies layered with experimental electronic landscapes, a melding of mellow Beach Boy tunes with trippy house/ techno meditative surf music. Yes I am aware of how convoluted that sounds, but this album is a summer treat! With song titles like "Surfers Hymn" and "Last Night at the Jetty" can't you feel the waves at your feet already? Lennox also masterfully handles the multiple roles of a full band as a strong vocalist and multi instrumentalist.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What's On My Playlist( Kicking off the month of June)

"Some days I feel like I might go berserk, throw the Country A-K rack out onto the street and go to work for a Virgin Mega Store." - (John Cusak from "High Fidelity")

I have been all over the place with music lately, and although I have heard some great new stuff I keep going back to my pics from last year. What can I say, 2011 was just that good! So this is sort of a part four of my continuing 2011 series.

BAD MEETS EVIL - HELL THE SEQUEL: Back in Eminem's trailer park days he used to rap with a cat named Royce Da 5'9. Now some many years later, Eminem being the cool dude he is, has brought his old partner into the spotlight and together they made a killer album as Bad Meets Evil.This cd is so tough it has shank marks, and the blood is fresh. Eminem continues to amaze me. How can anyone rap that fast and still be decipherable? Royce Da' 5'9 does more than hold his own in his solo numbers as well as his duos with Em. He also delivers my favorite line from the CD; "She said 'I'm feelin your whole swagger and flow, can we hook up? I said ' Mmmm you just used the word swagger so NO!' " Hell The Sequel delivers in all areas - beats, hooks, lyrics, and insanity in FULL DOSES. It's a great work out companion also!

BIG K.R.I.T. - RETURN OF 4 EVA: Since I'm talking Hip Hop, gotta mention Mississippi's Big K.R.I.T. Positive rap with a message that isn't over produced, can you dig it? Sounding like a combination of Outkast, Scarface, Dr. Dre and seventies icons Marvin Gay and Curtis Mayfield, K.R.I.T. arrives at a distinct mix of old school and contemporary Southern Hip Hop. However, he makes sure to distinguish his place among contemporary gansta rap; "I didn't smoke dope, nor did I sell it. I guess the story of a country boy just aint compellin". And it's not just great rhymes and songwriting, the production value is top class. Return of 4 Eva was self produced by Big K.R.I.T. as a  mixtape and posted digitally for fans to download for free. He has gone on to achieve enormous success, with Pitchfork magazine giving Return of 4 Eva their prestigious "best new music" tag for 2011.

GOTYE - MAKING MIRRORS: I had no idea when I discovered Gotye, that he was already burning up The Billboard record charts with his single Somebody That I Used to Know(Oddly enough I don't listen to the radio when looking for new music).  Born in Belgium and raised in Australia,  Gotye has released three independent albums. I am tempted to make a Peter Gabriel comparison because his music has that late eighties early nineties art/pop feel, and his voice is certainly a dead ringer. But I think enough comparisons have been made to Gabriel and Sting. Gotye is his own man and fills a slot that was begging to be filled. Artsy pop rock with introspective lyrics and catchy melodies.  If that sounds simple, how come it is so hard to find? And as a side note, if you haven't already, spend a little time checking out his videos.

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG - IRM: 2009's IRM has found a special place in my play list heart. This album was produced and largely written by Beck Hansen. So it's like Beck as a French female. Sound intriguing? It is indeed! And I really see why he chose Gainsbourg as his female alter ego. Her voice has the eloquent poise of a trained songstress paired with the psychedelic charisma that gave Velvet Underground's Nico her trademark sound. Gainsbourg and Beck chose the mysterious album title late in the recording process, she says the letters I R M mean something in French that reflects a dreamlike state of introspection. Beck says that he reads the letters as M R I, representing the strange state of mind one is in while getting a brain scan.  Either definition fits the concept perfectly. What we get is a trippy folk/rock/pop journey through night visions and dream-like creativity.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Imagine my surprise when my favorite new cd for 2012 was by Bruce Springsteen. "The Boss" has always been there. However, I never really gave him attention. His latest studio release, Wrecking Ball changed that. Here Bruce updates his all-American-working-man-appeal. We get Irish folk, strange drum intros that are reminiscent of Trent Reznor, inspirational ballads, and an all around solid rock album. "What's a poor boy to do in a world gone wrong, I woke up this morning shackled and drawn" Bruce, sings. Like his predecessors, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, he represents the struggle as much as the victory. This is the perfect cd to put on when you simply don't want to go to work and deal with the day.

Madonna, like Bruce Springsteen has always been there. We know her more as a pop diva than a great songwriter. Without Madonna there would be no Lady Ga Ga. I recently read a review of this album that said she is sounding too much like mainstream pop than the innovator she used to be. Think about that though...she created the mainstream pop sound that has been imitating her for years. With MDNA she is as strong as ever. Great beats, fun choruses, and insightful lyrics. "I tried be all you expected of me, and if a was a failure...I don't give a..." she sings on I Don't Give A. There's plenty of the Madonna we all know her for - controversy that you can dance to. I find it hilarious that she can get away with making a pop song called Gang Bang and I'm totally tapping my feat. You go girl!

Ani Difranco is an artist that constantly surprises and puzzles me. I don't find her always accessible but I do love her uniqueness. Sort of like jazz, when I'm in the mood it's great, but sometimes it's not easy to digest. Which Side Are You On took me into the softer side of Difranco and then kicked me in the ass. I love love love this album! Difranco started playing live at the age of nine in Buffalo, New York (performing Beatles covers nonetheless!) In 1989 she started her own record company Righteous Records and has refused many offers to sell out to major labels. Why she is not as huge as Dave Matthews is a mystery to me because their sounds and approach to music are very similar. Folk art and pop with a rock twist, and with a message. I really wish there were more albums like this.

Remember that scene in the movie Garden State where Natilie Portman puts the headphones on Zack Braff and says; "This song will change your life" ? The song was New Slang and it was by The Shins.
I was blown away when I heard it. Very Simon and Garfunkel with a modern indie sound - I have been into them ever since. Yet another band that should be much more famous than they are. The little indie band that could. They continue to put our great material that has a way of saying what's right on the tip of our tongues, but we just can't find the way to express it. When you have a rough break up or a really horrible day The Shins will help you celebrate and deal with the emotions rather than making you feel worse. I suppose that's what all music should do.

Friday, March 9, 2012

2011: The Year That Music Got Better (Pt.3)

2011 was a strange year to say the least! For one thing - I actually agreed with The Grammys! Bon Iver as best new artist (even though he's not a new artist) and Adele took home six awards. I am not going to bother posting Adele in my best of 2011 because as you already know she's like BUTTA. And if you haven't heard Bon Iver PLEASE check him out. Okay so next, here are some Aaron pics you might have missed out on.

Old 97's: The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 These Texas boys have been going strong since the mid nineties and they haven't missed a beat.  Their blend of country-twang-rock-punk makes you want to dance and smash things and then kiss your girlfriend. Or if you're a girl, you probably want to go home with the lead singer. Lead singer/songwriter Rhett Miller also has an impressive solo catalog, he really can do no wrong musically. And when I say country twang I am referring to Johnny Cash not Toby Keith. I would say I'm surprised that Old 97's aren't huge by now but I'm not. They almost might be too good to be famous.

Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee pt. 2  One of the year's best treats - The Beastie Boys came out with a new album! Beastie MCA(Adam Yauch )survived a battle with cancer, they are in their fourties, and what do they give us? A party CD. The Hot SauceCommittee pt. 2 is the most fun you will have with your speakers. Who else could provide lyrics such as; "Don't tell me nothin, don't tell me nada. Don't stop me now because I'm doing the lambada"? They could have gotten introspective, they could have gottten cynical, but it seems as though they just wanted to keep the party going. Though their medium is Hip Hop we get a grab bag of sounds and influences here.

Bright Eyes: The People's Key Conor Oberst started recording music at age fourteen with his father's four track recorder. He has been playing his guitar and singing live since thirteen. This guy is not one of those child prodigies that wails on the guitar with crazy squealing leads and wants to impress his audience, but rather, holds onto his acoustic guitar like a life raft and writes songs as if you are reading his diary. At 31 he recorded The People's Key with his band Bright Eyes (their ninth studio release). This album is incredible because Conor Oberst bridges the gap between deep music and something you actually want to keep on your play list. You don't have to listen to the lyrics but you're missing out if you don't.
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi: Rome Sometimes I have a hard time with mellow albums because it's challenging to find a chill cd that isn't depressing. I want to light incense and relax but I don't want to think about my ex or take emotional stock of my life. I don't want to meditate and go to Fern Gully either - I just want to chill. Rome was my go-to chill album of the year. Danger Mouse has established himself as one of the best producers of our time and he teamed up with Daniele Luppi, an Italian film composer. Together they came up with a fictional movie soundtrack that throws in songs with Norah Jones and Jack White(from The White Stripes) on vocals - it's freakin cool!

Monday, January 9, 2012

2011: The Year That Music Got Better! (Pt. 1)

In my opinion music has been suffering a slow death ever since Kurt Cobain shot himself and Axl Rose lost his band (you know the real Guns 'N Roses). The mid nineties showed a shift in the musical terrain and that shift was a downward spiral (not to be confused with the Nine Inch Nails album of the same title). Since that time I have been searching every year for something new and inspiring, something to give me hope, something that is not like reading an AARP magazine while waiting for a dentist appointment. And then, the unthinkable happened. As I went through 2011 gathering new music, I discovered more than a handful of new bands that didn't suck. In fact, they were really good! Veteran artists were releasing equally good work, music with a modern edge, while staying true to old school roots. Oddly enough most of the new bands sound like they could have just as easily come out during the mid-eighties to early nineties. As Tricky said - "Brand New You're Retro".  So here is my first blog in a series of 2011 "best of" picks(Not listed in order of importance). I welcome all of your feedback and recommendations, as I'm sure I have missed some good gems. Also make sure and click on "join this site" to the right if you like!

TOM WAITS - BAD AS ME : This album is as vintage and cool as anything Mr. Waits has done. Waits always delivers more than a collection of music. We get a guided tour of a moonlit underworld full of vagrants and misfits, drunk polkas, sinister blues, and alley cat rock 'n roll - all drug up from the bottom of a Louisiana swamp and bottled with moonshine. Songs howled, not sung. And music that is beat out of the instruments rather than played. Then, in an effortless shift in tone, Waits shows us his soft side - looking back at the hell raising all nighters with sadder and wiser eyes. This is Waits' best selling album to date, and that is no small piece of business considering his following goes back as far as 1973. However, I don't think it has taken that long for Waits to mature as a songwriter. Maybe it has taken the rest of the record buying public this long to catch up.

SOPHIE HUNGER - SOPHIE HUNGER: If I had a musical crush this year it was Sophie Hunger.  On her self titled album, Hunger is credited for songwriter, guitars, vocals, piano, and harmonica. She sings in three different languages (English, Swiss, and German), and pulls influences from Folk, Jazz, Blues, and Dance.  The overall sound can best best be described as Sinead O'Connor circa '89-'91 but with the abstract experimentation and frayed emotion of P.J. Harvey. To add a cherry to this delightful Sundae, Hunger even quotes Bob Dylan in her acoustic song "Sophie Hunger's Blues". This album was the twenty-eight year old's first North American release and went fairly unnoticed, but I am predicting that will change. In the liner notes Sophie has scrawled the following words in childlike penmanship: "Hello America, can you hear me?" We are listening Sophie!

WILCO - THE WHOLE LOVE: Wilco's founder and singer/ songwriter Jeff Tweedy has gone through many changes since the band's first 1995 release "A.M." Most of the band's lineup has been replaced and their sound has gone from roots rock, alt country, indie folk, to art rock( Pitchfork magazine described their late nineties sound as "The Beach Boys soaked in bong water"). With all of the changes and experimentation, Tweedy has arrived with Wilco's strongest line up and perhaps the album that can finally eclipse 2002's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (The band's most successful and widely accepted release ). What's great about The Whole Love is it's complete accessibility.  This isn't  just a record for die hard fans like Sky Blue Sky or Wilco(The Album), this an album for anyone who likes great music. So if you haven't heard Wilco, this is an excellent place to start.

LADY GA GA - BORN THIS WAY:   Okay, I too went goo goo for Ga Ga. Maybe it's because pop music hasn't had a strong female leading the pack of hot divas since Madonna. Maybe it's because I am happy to see a young female with talent sending positive messages of empowerment. Or maybe I'm just relieved to see a pop star that wasn't discovered on American Idol. Sure there have been many deserving divas who have burned up with stage with hot dance moves and belted out some scorching vocals. But there's something wonderful about a girl who started in New York  not too long ago playing her keyboard at open mic night. Much like Madonna who started as a drummer and went around New york with a demo tape in her back pocket.  This success story wouldn't mean as much, however, if there wasn't true talent behind it. And there is plenty of talent here. Hopefully Born This Way is just a preview of what's to come.

See you on Pt. 2! Thanks for reading!