31 May, 2008

Which Disney Princess am I?

Find Out Which Disney Girl You Are!
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Belle

Dancing furniture, singing spoons, and a man who needs a serious haircut - sound familiar? Well it should! Belle was a very independent spirit with alot on her mind, much like you are! But in life, there is a needed balance - learn when to speak your mind, and when to hold it back. Sometimes offending someone isn't the best way to go!















Snow White


Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)












29 May, 2008

A post for those who LOVE musical theatre

I go to two boys when I want to know about the best thing on (and off) Broadway. The first is Zach Braff (J.D. in Scrubs) and the second is John Gallagher Jr. (Moritz in Spring Awakening). They are my musical theatre gurus, and they randomly post about the coolest theatre happenings in NYC.

If you want to go straight to the sources instead of reading my oh so compelling, but alternately neurotic ramblings, here are their websites:

Johnny "Frigging Awesome" Gallagher's Myspace (read the blog and listen to the tunes)


Zach Braff's Blog

If you're still sticking around to read what I have to say, then you're in for a little review of the music from the new show Passing Strange. I was instructed to "run" not "walk" to see this musical by Johnny Gallagher himself, and the guru does not joke about his musicals. Passing Strange has something to do with church and religion; something to do with sex, drugs, rock 'n roll, blues, and funk; and will probably be the Spring Awakening of this year. We can only hope.

The story revolves around an American musician from a church-going, middle-class family who rebels and sets out on a voyage of self-discovery in Europe (namely Amsterdam and Berlin). The music itself is a chronicle of the character's mental journey. Every song has a different flavor, pulling elements from music styles as diverse as punk and psychedelic music, but remaining Broadway through and through. Every track on the Original Broadway Cast Recording (OBCR) was recorded live, but this is almost irrelevant given the fact that all the music is meant to be enjoyed in the context of the show. Still, the clapping audience adds a nice touch of authenticity for those listeners (like myself) who do not have the option of just hopping in a car and going to NYC to see the actual musical.

The first song is "Prologue (We Might Play All Night)" and it has a distinct blues-rock flavor full of Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar riffs and rough vocal delivery. "Baptist Fashion Show" has some creepy vocal harmonies that remind me of the Beach Boys, but again the main vocals are a soulful, wailing, bluesy presence that make the song shine. "Church Blues Revelation/Freight Train" rumbles and erupts into an apocalyptic fit of divine intervention. It's a strong revelation described by an even stronger song. "Arlington Hill" is a small detour into more mainstream Broadway territory. It's a pretty song without much distinction, and it's followed by "Sole Brother" a metal/screamo/spoken-word poetry bomb that explodes with anger and more than a hint of sarcasm. "Must Have Been High" is the first song that concentrates strongly on the protagonists experiences with drugs. The lyrics try a little too hard (in my opinion) to be Sargent Pepper-esque, for example "chandelier eyes and electric chairs, visit your mind and spend two days there" is one line that is not particularly creative with its trippy sentiment.

"Mom Song" is beautiful chance for the protagonist's overbearing and ultra-religious, but loving mother to have her say. This song also doubles as a catalyst to the underlying tension that has been building throughout the beginning of the play. The lyrics have been pulled in many directions, but the main thread is an idea of self-slavery or self-oppression. The main character is African American so it makes sense that the language of oppression used in the lyrics centers around chains and shackles, and images that are strongly tied to the history of American slavery. This idea of self-slavery is universal though, being basically a mental state, and can be applied in an enormous context. So it is in Passing Strange that the main character comes to associate religion and church with self-oppression of the mind, body, and spirit. The interesting dynamic in "Mom Song" is that the protagonist's mother explains how she associates religion and church mental freedom. Through religious expression she can break free of the constraints placed on her by society.

"Merci Boucoup, M. Godard" continues the story as the young man flies to Amsterdam. The song is a laundry-list of semi-obscure cultural references, but it particularly concentrates on French New Wave Cinema (Francois Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard are both name-dropped). I think it's pretty cool that I just watched Les Quatre cents coups on Monday, and the musical that I'm reviewing on Thursday has a song that mentions Truffaut.

"Amsterdam" is a trip, both musically and lyrically, channeling folk-rock and also making its way through the history of musical theatre into the arms of another protagonist who found herself wishing to be far away from home, and then hoping to find her home again. The mid-song piano drama is so reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, I found myself overcome by waves of nostalgia whenever I listen. Really it makes sense, seeing as this is a modern day retelling of that class fairy-tale. A person searching for adventure and self-realization meeting strange people in strange locales; and finally realizing what they needed all along, closing the circle as they return. The next four songs - "Keys (Marianna)", "Keys (It's Alright), "We Just Had Sex", and "Stoned" - recount some conquests and explorations that are little less than kosher. I'm not going to go into crazy details, they might ruin some of the twists and turns of the story. Let me just write that "Stoned" is the best song of the crazy Amsterdam quartet. It's a powerful song, with visceral highs and lows.

"Berlin: A Black Hole With Taxis" intensely drums its way into your mind. It has military precision, and a cold, dark, mechanical quality that I oddly associate with German cities. (Why do I do this? I honestly have no idea.) "May Day (There's A Riot Goin' Down)" pounds and screams with punk enthusiasm and anger. The song is vicious, but also extremely catchy. "What's Inside Is Just A Lie/And Now I'm Ready to Explode" sounds like reverse cultural brainwashing or at least alternative cultural brainwashing. It strikes me as a deconstruction of all the ideas that are so inherently America. Every person is a beautiful, unique snowflake with emotions that define their character, and qualities and ideas that separate them from every other person. These are ideas that are very Western, and especially very American, but they are not held by people throughout the world, and I think the main character is experiencing some of the alternate modes of thought in Berlin. The song flows into "Identity" which struggles with the very existence of identity, with a swirly-whirly pseudo-Eastern backing track. "The Black One" plays with the idea of minstrel shows, and discusses race in an interesting context. Obviously, racism isn't an endemically American trait. Racism exists across the world in many forms, and even the most basic stereotyping can lead to misunderstandings and common misconceptions. In Passing Strange, the main character pretends to be from a poor family to gain a certain advantage abroad, but he struggles with this deception. Is it ethical to take advantage of people's misconceptions? Is it wrong to benefit from other's stereotypes when you can? These are some of many questions that are raised in Passing Strange, and the journey to discover their answers is the journey that main character takes.

"Come Down Now", "Youth's Unfinished Song", and "Work the Wound" are songs sung in a tamer world. "Come Down Now" is a beautiful piano piece, a request for connection to a person who is lost in their own world. "Youth's Unfinished Song" is a bit of a last-stand, but it has a gentle tone. Where "Sole Brother", "Stoned", and "May Day (There's A Riot Goin' Down)" are all extremely energetic and rebellious pieces, "Youth's Unfinished Song" reaches for rebellion, but ends instead with confusion, weariness, and even a little grief. In mid-song the protagonist forgets the lyrics, forgets the tunes, and is left wondering what comes next. "Work the Wound" goes back to the beginning: the music. It is always the music that is the protagonist's saving grace, and this song is a declaration of his love for the music that is his religion. "Passing Phase" continues the musical theme, but reaches the final climax and revelation. Where Dorothy realized she needed to be home with Uncle Henry and Aunty Em, the main character of Passing Strange realized that his home, his soul, is where he ca play the music that he loves. "Cue Music" finalizes the story. It's a redemption song that validates the character's search and struggle. But "Love Like That" is the epilogue, the little song that declares what Shakespeare said many years ago: "All the world's a stage, and all the people merely players", albeit in a less wordy and more contemporary paraphrase.

There you have it. The play is the thing, or in this case, the musical. You might discover something about yourself that you never realized if you go to see Passing Strange. You might realize that you don't like musicals. What I know, is that you will have an experience that is not available on a stage anywhere else. This musical is one of a kind.

28 May, 2008

"Sea Green, See Blue (LIVE)" - Jaymay

"Won't you miss me?" you said inside grand central station
And your eyes grew red and wild before the chasin'
I felt your body move through my coat
I felt you footstep silent but
Heavy, you followed me onto the shuttle
Tapped my shoulder one last time and that was all, that was all

I miss winter just because I miss when I knew you best
I miss the typewriter in the basement, I miss making your room a mess
I miss not being misused
I miss it all, so I guess I lose
Sea green, see blue

September 2nd to April 13th, but who's counting?
Song after song after song after song amounting into mountains
He told me you beat her up
Behold the "Super Keith" on the cup
What's up, enough's enough, and where's my morning coffee?
I regret every single thing I ever said, I said those things too softly

There was you, there was me in the room with the alcoholic guest
You asked if we should sleep on these cardboard sheets I said "Yes, okay, let's"
And the sculptor we hardly knew
His limbs were lying askew
Sea green, see blue

You tossed your phone fifty feet in the air, I can't believe you caught it
You said whatever you wanted to as long as you thought it should be true
And you dream, you make movies, you dance
You moved to Montreal, to be closer to France
How's that working out, how's the music, how's the food?
I know you won't stay there forever, I know you're gonna move again and again and again

This is crazy, but I know I left you to be with your art
You always put me first, and somehow that broke my heart
Cause it's not my place to choose
My first love, and my only muse
Sea green, see blue

27 May, 2008

What would I listen to if I were a hardcore archeologist?

I'm sure that the Indiana Jones movies have inspired many a young academic/adventurer to go into archeology. Why not? It's a cool career without the fights and explosions, so when you add those elements to the mix you get a pretty badass combination. It would be amazing to travel, have adventures, and save historical artifacts, but what would I choose for a soundtrack?

I'm going to start with the most obvious, and obviously perfect choice John Williams' "Raider's March". Like the Star Wars theme, you can hum it in a room and immediately separate friends from foes (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it is a helpful trick when trying to weed out possible "adventure buddies" in a room full of people). This theme music is like a national anthem for people who enjoy adventure, at least in principle.

Neil Young follows with his own treasure-hunting story "Heart of Gold". Besides the theme, I think Indy would approve of the strong country flavor and wailing harmonica. "Dirt and Blood" by Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra takes the third spot on my list because it is timeless, and has a rhythm that is both understated and constant. Jones is far from mellow, but he is also far from mainstream, and I think he'd appreciate the musical balance that Antibalas strikes. Jones is also not the kind of man to settle down with your average woman, so "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" by Bob Dylan is a nice little theme song for the majority of his love life, but when he does find (rediscover) that perfect girl, I'd play "Old-Fashioned Love" by the Dick Hyman Group at their wedding. "Symphony No. 29 in A Major" by Mozart is a cultured but energetic piece, perfect for days spent teaching at the University. For nights spent fighting gravediggers and villains bent on the destruction of everything good in the world, I would bring out some gypsy jazz and play Django Reinhardt's "Rhythm Futur", while "Shalako (Folk Dance)" by Djivan Gasparyan is the backing track for travels across the world. The finale? I like to hope Indy would rest with something a little relaxing like "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away)" by the Dick Hyman Group, but if he ever got the call to search for another artifact or fight another villain, then I hope he wouldn't hesitate to pick up his hat and start the "Raider's March" all over again.

"Alone Again Or (LIVE)" - Calexico

Originally created by the band Love in the late '60s, this song is amazing and this cover is vibrant. Enjoy.

Oscar Wilde and Francois Truffaut (Or, "How I Spent My Memorial Day")

Never does my life seem to flow in easily definable patterns, and holidays are no exception. While many people were barbecuing, or swimming, or hiking (something fairly normal that I did accomplish yesterday), I went from Thoreau to Oscar Wilde to Francois Truffaut in an afternoon.

Thoreau because who can go into the wilderness in New England without being confronted by the shadow (generally in the form of his less than subtle, but intensely poignant words) of this environmental activist? His name was dropped in the middle of a trail-history sign, and I have yet to discover what he actually had to do with that particular trail (or particular wilderness) at all. I suppose this is something I should look into.

I think I could write pages and pages about the actual hike, but my writing would be an extremely poor reflection of the actuality. It was a good hike, and in the end there were surprises of nature and of humanity. A white wild flower that grew along the path in bunches, and wild strawberries and raspberries were the most beautiful surprises. On the other side, we have the condominiums that overlook the trail now, an eyesore in an area that was once transferred from a hardcore logging community to national forest, and is now moving closer and closer to being used again. It's dangerous when people start to think that they own the Earth, and not just dangerous for nature. Nature isn't the type to lie down for humanity. Just take a look at an abandoned parking lot and you can see green pushing up through the pavement. Take a look at environmental history and you will see that it is always the species that go beyond their means and tip the balance who end up in trouble; and while nature may not be preserved exactly, she always seems to bounce back. In the mountains, it is difficult for me to forget how much bigger the world is than any one person with their little tiny problems.

This is where I move to Oscar Wilde. The playwright came up in conversation yesterday, and we were all trying to remember some of his famous quotes. He had some truly great lines like "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence with nothing in between" and "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you" and then of course this gem: "I think God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability." He often strikes that happy chord between Groucho Marx and Mark Twain, and I find myself becoming more of a fan with every quote I read. Yesterday, we were also employing the iPod's shuffle feature. The iPod shuffle is like a radio station that you control. You can yell at the DJ if a song pops up that does not suit your mood, but you can also - kind of - leave it up to fate. I qualify with "kind of", because I am almost certain that Apple has some program written that takes into account all of the "flow" factors of mixes made in shuffle mode. "Flow" factors being tempo, cadence, mood, genre, and the finish of the song. If such a program is not in effect, then I have to say, right now, that my iPod is haunted. Where I struggle to find a song that perfectly fits to another song, my iPod in shuffle mode throws out one perfect fit after another. But back to Oscar Wilde. In the midst of the Oscar Wilde conversation, the Pretenders' "Message of Love" starts pumping from the speakers. Lo and behold, this song happens to have an Oscar Wilde quote from Lady Windermere's Fan: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Beautiful synchronicity at its best.

We somehow wound our way through the Memorial Day traffic, and at home I found my borrowed copy of Les Quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows) by Francois Truffaut, king of French New Wave cinema. This movie is generally regarded as his masterpiece, and I would agree that it is a great film. It follows Antoine Doinel, a French adolescent who stumbles through life away from his brutal teachers and disinterested parents towards the ocean. It's another journey that you really have to make for yourself, but that last Oscar Wilde quote sums up the movie pretty nicely. There are many emblematic scenes in this movie, but one that stays particularly clear in my mind is one of Doinel sitting in his jail cell looking like such a little boy, but hand-rolling a cigarette from the contents of his pockets in an extremely graceful and world-wise way. He has little baby fingers that are still kind of pudgy, but he rolls his cigarette with certainty of technique. The soundtrack is a work of art that is unfortunately not being sold at this time (not even on Amazon UK for $60). Composed by Jean Constantin, it is orchestra based with a sound that is somewhat Chaplinesque. At times it is both incredibly child-like and naive, and hauntingly mature, like Antoine Doinel himself.

This is how I spent my Memorial Day, and writing this account I find myself feeling completely unique. I can't imagine that anyone else (in New England anyway) had exactly the same kind of day. To quote Oscar Wilde: "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

26 May, 2008

25 May, 2008

"Blackbird Pie" - Amelia

Classically Elemental

The Ancient Greeks believed in four (sometimes five) "elements" that together composed everything on Earth. Water, Earth, Air, Fire, and the sometimes included fifth "element" Idea. (The Greeks did not invent Captain Planet, but you can definitely see how they influenced that cartoon.) These "elements" are a far cry from the modern day periodic table, but they are also - in a simplistic way - perfect for describing the properties that make up everything in the world.

With this in mind, I'll introduce you to Firewater. They're a band from NYC that has released six albums, the most recent being The Golden Hour. Multiculturalism is a major theme, with Bhangra and Klezmer music constantly pulsing influences in the background. Swing and ska and dirty jazz can also be found throughout the thirteen songs on The Golden Hour.

In many ways, Firewater reminds me of the Clash. Not so much the early stuff, but the more creative music. Let's say London Calling through Sandanista to Combat Rock. Out of necessity and through the wonders of globalization, Firewater has more sounds to work with, but the central elements remain the same as the Clash. The bands share an openness and experimentation that prevents their sound from becoming stale, a certain obvious disdain for the powers that be, and a powerful certainty and sense of self that is missing in many bands. There are bands making music who have no personality whatsoever; others have personality that is so incredibly dynamic it will change completely from one album to the next. What set the Clash apart - what I think could set Firewater apart - was its ability to capture the feeling of the time, invoking that defining personality without becoming a slave to the feeling.

So it is that I can listen to London Calling and feel the grit, and anger, and violence and the overwhelming spirit of revolution. I can feel the craving to break from tradition and embrace a greater world. In The Golden Hour that craving is not quite so incessant. The energy and wanderlust are present, but they are being dimmed to some extent by the opportunities that are more readily available for inter-cultural exploration. Thirty years ago, if I had wanted to listen to Fela Kuti, I probably would have had to go to a city to find a record store that stocked his music. Similarly, if I had wanted to share my love for afro-beat with others, I would have been hard-pressed to find another fan my age in small-town suburban New England. Today, I can listen to Kuti's music on iTunes, track down similar artists at Allmusic, explore their Myspaces and band websites, and discuss their sounds in a plethora of chat rooms across the internet. Obviously the pressures that bore down on Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, and Mick Jones are different from those that bear down on the young adults of the 21st century, but the "elements" used for expressing those pressures are basically the same. We still have plenty of angry young men (and women) smashing guitars and singing about "getting out" (if this weren't the case, then why would emo music be so incredibly popular?). We also have artists (like the Clash) who channel that anger into something something exceptional. At the same time though, the world has grown in our minds and so have the possible places to escape to, the objects of our adventurous obsession.

"Borneo" is the first song on The Golden Hour, and although it reminds me more of The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Squirrel Nut Zippers' contemporary swing music than something particularly Indonesian, it also references experiences that are far from the 1940s kosher feeling that Setzer's music invokes. One lyric finds the vocalist aspiring to "swing like an ape from a Banyan tree" which sounds like fun to me. "This Is My Life" pulls in Klezmer and Bhangra beats behind bluesy lyrics. The vocalist sounds more resigned than angry, when he gasps his counter-culture sentiments on this song, but "Electric City" has a different feeling, an acuteness of lyric that is closer to pure ska and punk music. "Already Gone" has a dramatic backing track that sounds fitting for an early film noir, while the song itself carries the sentiment of a well-written "screw you". "A Place Not So Unkind" describes a wasteland world that is dark and desperate, but also fairly surreal. "Three Legged Dog" finishes the album with a yowling, growling sound that sings rebellion with a side of New York sophistication.

I won't say that Firewater has reached the status of the Clash. Their music is not yet as universal as the Clash's music became, and their sound is still being fine-tuned. I do believe that the band has many of the right elements working in its favor. If channeled correctly, these elements could define the sound of our times. A music that easily flows from one cultural reference to another, while expressing the loneliness and anger that are still prevalent emotions in our larger and more connected world. Frustration with governing bodies has not really waned since the days when Strummer and Jones wrote "Clampdown", and violence has only moved closer to home since Simonon penned "The Guns of Brixton", but music is still a great filter for viewing our problems and a great medium for expressing our frustrations. We just need a band with vision to capture the sentiment of the times, and play the music that everyone needs to hear.

23 May, 2008

I need to see this movie again.

"Palo Santo" - Shearwater

This music feels dark, almost Gothic. I love it. (Side note: What is up with the drummer's hair? Yikes.)


Am I doomed to a life of constant irony? Am I a punch-line in someone/something's master-plan joke? Or is reality so inconceivably non-linear that my life, my actions, and reactions are creating a feedback mechanism that forces certain unusual values to constantly reappear in my daily life? I am a believer in synchronicity, but I'm at the point where there's nothing to do but raise my hands and yell "WHAT THE FUCK??!!".

Here's what prompted my little outburst. I'm slouching around, minding my own business when I receive my latest copy of Spin. It's a cool magazine, if occasionally slow on the uptake (for instance, this most recent issue has the title "Special Report: 'Death to Emos', Inside Mexico's Punk Riots". As any regular blog-reader knows, I reported on that report quite a long time ago...but I digress). I'm flipping through the pages in a semi-interested way, because really I'm already pledged to my latest New Yorker even if I do have to drag myself through another John Updike story to see the back cover. I find one of my favorite sections: "The Spin Mix". It's just a playlist of new-ish songs, but it's generally a diving board for a blog post (as you can see), so I start searching for the songs online. I have no real process, in fact I usually just look for the band name that captures my interest, and this morning I found myself typing I See Hawks In L.A. into my iTunes search window.

This is when my life gets a little spooky. I See Hawks In L.A. has been around for awhile. Their self-titled album was released in 2003, followed by Grapevine in 2004, California Country in 2006, and their current release Hallowed Ground. I start by listening to the track "Slash From Guns N' Roses", which is kind of a campy little romp that revolves around - how did you guess?- Slash from Guns N' Roses. It's fine, but I'm ready to move on so I look at their most popular songs. Number two is called "Humboldt". At this point I'm a little curious, because Humboldt County California has become a little more than a dot on a map to me, as of late. I now know a couple people who may spend the next ten years of their lives in Humboldt County, and what's even more strange is that the last two books I've read have had entire sections devoted to Humboldt County, and it's also made an unusual number of appearances on my radio. I feel like I've heard more about Humboldt County lately, than I've heard about New York City. All of this goes through my head, but the sane part of me, the part that ignores reality and requires logic keeps reminding me that Humboldt could very well be someone's name. In fact, by the time I actually start listening to the song, I've convinced myself that this band from L.A. must be referencing Alexander von Humboldt the German naturalist and explorer. There's no way...

Yeah, there is actually. The song is about Humboldt County's cannabis, which is most likely its most famous crop. If "forty pounds in the back of my van, it's all part of the master plan" didn't let me on, then maybe it was the line "spark it up and let it out, breathe it in what it's all about". Whatever, at this point I'm resigned to insanity.

22 May, 2008

"Subversion should be fun."

John Cusack is one of my favorite actors, so I was pretty pumped to see him interviewed by Campus Progress. Apparently he's making a new movie called War, INC that's about war profiteers. I guess I should just let you guys read the article. It's good, and it brings up some interesting points:

"A Call to Revolution" by Annika Carlson

The Scarlett Letter

Is it a cliche to be an indie film star and make albums these days? It started way back when with Phantom Planet and Rooney. Now we've moved to Coconut Records (Jason Schwartzman), She & Him (Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward), and Scarlett Johansson's little Tom Waits treatise Anywhere I Lay My Head. The first two bands I mentioned were fun, if not amazingly talented. Coconut Records and She & Him are currently riding on a lot of hype, although I found these records fairly entertaining. The last, and most current release has to be the most disappointing.

Scarlett Johansson is gorgeous. I'm not a great fan of her work, but I do love Woody Allen (who seems to have an eye for finding clever women and men to star in his films) and he's a big fan. Unfortunately, beauty and cleverness are not equivalent to talent in the music department. Equally unfortunate are the production values on this album. I had to turn my volume way up to even register Scarlett's voice on most of these tracks, and when I had the volume that high all of the other sounds became muddy and incoherent. Admittedly, Tom Waits seems to be a fan of muddy and dark sounds, but he achieves these sounds in a way that does not sacrifice the intelligibility of his vocals. Johansson never even seems to reach coherency on this album, instead mumbling in a voice that sounds like it's being stretched to its depth. The sound is the opposite of gorgeous; with vocals that are week and lachrymal, Moaning Myrtle comes to mind or maybe hoarse mermaids. I'm not quite sure how to categorize my disappointment, just let it be known that Anywhere I Lay My Head is disappointing.

20 May, 2008

I know a girl who knows Justin Case...

This morning it has been difficult for me to focus on one album. I want to be a faithful one album per post reviewer, but I find myself pulled in a few different directions. Maybe it's the Spring air? If I seem a little unfocused, please forgive me. I woke up to the smell of lilacs.

Electric Laser by Giant Panda was released today, and I wasn't really expecting the music to be hip-hop based on the mental images that the album title and band name evoked. I guess when I think of Giant Pandas, I think extinction, inability to procreate for the good of the species, China, bamboo, and cute babies. Electric Laser brings to mind different images, many (for some reason) tied to James Bond and Austin Powers, but none tied to hip-hop music.

The first real song on the album is called "Justin Case" (thus the slightly ambiguous post title), and it bumps along to a jazzy horn that slides nicely with the vocals. "Ready To Fly" follows with echoes reminiscent of water drops falling off the ceiling of a cave (albeit, extremely precise water drops), while the rhyme is interesting but not particularly challenging or exciting. "Speakers Pop" is very technocentric, floating on a beat that would not have been outlandish in an '80s video game. "AIM" has a soft edged beat, and the lyrics concentrate on working for the sanctity of art, instead of for the fame and glory. "Laser Ray" is most cleverly titled in a way that plays on names yet again, Ray being the main character of the song's story. The story itself is like a spoken-word comic book, and therefore had me hooked from word one.

If I had to guess, I would say that "Precise Calculator" is rapped in Japanese. I am unfortunately extremely ignorant when it comes to the differences between Asian languages, but Japanese is still my guess. If I'm right, then it makes for an extremely interesting (read: practically perfect) language for hip-hop. The cadence is gorgeous, although I kind of wish I knew what the lyrics mean. "Same Old $#!+", "Cinemax", and "Pops" are three low-tempo songs that explore extremely different topics. As you can probably guess, "Same Old $#!+" revolves around those everyday experiences - good and bad - that seem to repeat themselves. "Cinemax" has a deep groove, and its lyrics revolve around exactly what the title implies. "Pops" is a different hip-hop song that discusses the life of the vocalist's gay father. It's an exciting song, because it deals with a topic that is taboo in many hip-hop circles, and the lyrics are very liberal in their view of the topic (yay).

The final three songs on the album are a little faster. "Let It Go" sits on a beat that is extremely satisfying, and name-drops Pacman (bonus points). "Do The Robot In Cyberspace" is a party song with a heavy bass-line, and some celebratory horns. "Speakers Funk" has the best groove on the album, combining the best of funk and soul, while the lyrics truly celebrate the sounds that the song utilizes. It's a nice ending to a fun, if uneven album. On the one hand, if Giant Panda was trying to create a CD that was consistently challenging or consistently common, then the band failed. If, on the other hand, Giant Panda wanted to make a mix of songs that discuss heavy and light topics alternately, then they succeeded miraculously. The only problem I can see, is that a music fan who is not a careful listener may miss the high and low points of the album. Luckily, this doesn't keep the music snobs of the world from enjoying.

19 May, 2008

Just go see it...

Before and After

"The Comeback" - Shout Out Louds (this was pumping through my car radio speakers in 2005)

and now we have, "Tonight I Have to Leave It" - Shout Out Louds. Can anyone else hear the 2005 similarity to the Shins vs. the 2007 similarity to Arcade Fire?

18 May, 2008

Split Screen Sadness (The Next Phenomenon)

I am Ellen Page ecstatic right now. She plays multi-dimensional female characters, who are never just bitchy, or manipulative, or slutty, or weak, or cut-throat, or cold, or any of the common stereotypes perpetuated in modern society.

She was amazing in her portrayal of Lillith in the Canadian drama Regenesis (a must watch). She's just such a talented actress, and how can you fail to enjoy a show where the major drama is the death of her friend/boyfriend who happens to be a clone? Intense.

Then we have Juno, which is just a perfect polaroid of a girl worth admiring because (not in spite) of her flaws, her humor, and her evident strength. People make mistakes, even intelligent young women, and it's nice to see an honest portrait with a bittersweet, happy ending.

Now there's The Tracey Fragments filmed in a split-screen style similar to Piet Mondrian's modern artwork. It's wonderfully avant-garde and clever, given weight by Ellen Page (who rarely disappears from the screen). It's also a gorgeously creepy, almost labyrinthine movie. There's a dramatic search for a missing brother, intersected by personal anecdotes and admissions a la livejournal (to put it bluntly, Tracey Burkowitz seems quite at home in a world of drama, populated by fictitious and semi-fictitious events and characters.) Tracey is deadly serious, but the movie does not seem to take itself very seriously, and this is a trait that's almost always in a film's favor. At the moment, the movie is only being shown in certain theatres in the United States (and unfortunately, mostly on the West Coast, blah). Still, you can enjoy the tightly wound, Broken Social Scene-filled soundtrack while you wait for the real deal.

"Horses" by Broken Social Scene starts the album with tension that could be cut by a butter knife. It's almost what I would call Gothic techno (Meg Lee Chin, Pigface), and it's an appropriate choice of music for a movie that is supposed to feel edgy. The lyrics are also fairly nonsensical, running parallel with the story-line. "Cut Up" by Duchess Says follows with a Nine Inch Nails meets Le Tigre aesthetic. Equal parts anger and energy, this song smashes along until it comes up against the FemBots' "Don't Want To Be Your Man". Talk about a Rolling Stones tribute, this song is chock-full of Southern rock lust and bombast; it rolls as it rocks. Rose Melberg adds a precious little tune - "Each New Day" - that nonetheless has a magnificently subtle melancholy that seeps through the lush piano. We return to Broken Social Scene for "Drop In The Mercury" which sounds increasingly like a coming storm, and is therefore most appropriately titled. "Who's Gonna Know Your Name (666)" by the FemBots rambles on after the storm, chugging away like a little blues train. "Gate Hearing!" by Slim Twig is as nonsensical a lyrical exploration as that of Wonderland, but with all of its whimsy it happens to also have the charms of the Queen of Hearts whose greatest precision is in lopping off heads. Deadly, as the English would say. "Oh Lord, My Heart" by the Deadly Snakes bangs out its folksy discord, and plays the straight man (or as straight as you can be in Mondrian-vision) to Slim Twig's neo-psychedelic day tripper. The album finishes with a trio of Broken Social Scene songs. "Hallmark" is a heartbeat with flourishes of harmonica; "Gone or Missing" brings to mind the bouncy flashes of a sunset as it sinks below the horizon; and, "Needle In the Head" is the final symphony of chaos that sums up the whole album. It's a strangely soothing trio, and an interesting end to the soundtrack of a movie that distorts the world in many ways.

In the end readers, the choice is really yours to embrace this odd little film and its equally odd soundtrack, or to send it into quick DVD obscurity, and (I have no doubt) cult status. Even if it sucks, it wins quite a few points for trying something different, and that cannot be denied.

"Tree Hugger" - Antsy Pants (Kimya Dawson)

This animation is by Julia Kaiser, and it's animazing. :)

I love this song.

Smiling's My Favorite

If I were you, then I would run on over to the Apollo Sunshine website/myspace and listen to all of their hot new tunes. The new album has been finished (*sigh of musical relief*), and now I can do nothing but sit back and enjoy the songs that have been pre-released, while continuing to enjoy Katonah, Apollo Sunshine, and Apollo Sunshine LIVE At the Paradise. I can also cross my fingers for a local show before late August.

Here's "666: The Coming of the New World Government", which is a new Apollo Sunshine song. It combines the best of their earliest (and most psychedelic) material, and their most recent (and most country/blues/rock driven) material. I cannot wait to see them again.

Support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Jeff Smith, and Bill Hader respectively explain why they support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

17 May, 2008

"Hush now child, and don't you cry..."

"...Your folks might understand you, by and by..."

I'm back! My computer is extremely upgraded, and I need to credit the Macintosh innovation "shuffle" with my current sanity. If it hadn't been for the shuffle feature, well I might have just exploded. Without a computer, I was unable to mix; but, with the shuffle feature I could let my iPod do all the work.

Now I'm on iTunes, having missed their new music Tuesday on Tuesday. It's kind of like receiving a birthday present a few days after your birthday. I'm listening to their "Coachella08" list, which includes Diplo's little homage to the Pixies, "Must Be A Devil". If you aren't a Pixies fan, then you need to know that he's referencing "Hey", which begins:

Been trying to meet you...ooooh...Hey!
Must be a devil between us, or whores in my head...

It's probably my favorite Pixies song, and Diplo repeats the already repetitive bass-loop at high speeds.

On the second day of Coachella we have Diplo's girlfriend M.I.A. I actually heard "Paper Planes" on the radio the other day, and it was kind of surreal to hear the crooned "Some some some I some I murder, sooooome I let gooooo..." with other people listening. No one in the car seemed to notice that little segue into gangster rap territory (actually, I'm not even sure they noticed the gunshots in the chorus), but I didn't point it out. There are some gems that you have to let people discover for themselves.

Also performing on the second day is St. Vincent who has assumed a cult-following at colleges across the United States. I've got to admit that she's pretty clever, and the only reason I haven't purchased her album is that I feel I've already maxed out my number of solo female folk-singer purchases for this year. It has already been "that kind of year", and I'm only in May. By August, who knows what kind of soul candy I might require?

Did someone say candy? Because that's on the set-list too, mixed with Roger Waters, Love and Rockets, Gogol Bordello, Metric, Stars, the Shout Out Louds, Sia, Holy Fuck, I'm From Barcelona, the Black Kids, and Brett Dennen. The candy I mention consists of one horror movie star and that moment that every working stiff waits for, week in and week out. Did you guess Vampire Weekend? I can't say I'm surprised that they're on the set-list, and I can't say that I blame Coachella for inviting the Ivy-League boy band. I guess it makes sense to scoop up the latest "next big thing" while they're still anything. Unfortunately, I can't pretend to believe that Vampire Weekend's fame will last longer than a short weekend in history. Then again, I am not omniscient, and history is far more convoluted than I can imagine. I think all we can do is have fun with what we have, where we are. You never know what is or isn't around the corner.

13 May, 2008

Blog Hiatus

Yes, the title of this blog post is unfortunately very true. I'm going to have to take a bit of a hiatus while my lovely laptop is in the shop. I hope nothing hugely musical happens while I'm away (like Jimi Hendrix is ressurected or something...)

Don't lose hope, readers! I shall be back soon.


06 May, 2008

Mr. A-Z

Jason Mraz's music is great, and it's even better live than it is produced on his studio albums. Check out Jason Mraz Live & Acoustic, and the We Sing and We Dance extended plays. They make me smile.


"Iron Man" - Black Sabbath

Wakeup Song

I think I wrote in my last post about my body's odd ability to wake me when great music is pumping through my speakers. It happened this morning!

At first I could only hear a guitar: something acoustic, with a professional use of microphone to layer the live sound. A folk song with a little country twang, and a taste of environmental activism that strikes me as genuine, if not borne from years of living "in the wild", so to speak. It's not quite Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi", but the sentiment is very similar. I found myself thinking 'this girl [I did not know her name at the time] is tapping into a set of emotions that combines activism with the deterioration of human society' (granted, my words were probably much less coherent and eloquent than those that I just wrote).

The lyrics are seamlessly interwoven, describing the protagonist's mournfulness at change that brings deep loss. Be it "the trees", "the deer", the idea of living life slowly, or her love, this girl can see that all of these losses are connected and symbiotic in some ways. She longs for something more stable and proven by time, and so she wanders into antique shops that christen the long road, and stares at the old rings that "don't cost as much but...meant everything, to someone else in a different time". What do you say about that? What do you say about lyrics that jump out of your stereo and shake you? The song is full of those kinds of lyrics. "It's been a long year, it's been a long day, and we say nothing because there's too much to say", for example, or "at the end of the day, and at the end of this year I know you'll still be there, but I will be here". They're very simple lines and lyrics, nothing fluffy or stuffy poetic, but they're poetic nonetheless.

I bet by now you want me to reveal the song and the artist, so I will. Natalia Zukerman is a folk singer born in Manhattan. With classically trained (and performing) parents, she was inundated with music from an early age. Her latest album is called Brand New Frame, and it on this album that we find "Only Trees", the song described above. Apparently WERS did an In-Studio with Natalie Zukerman, and this live take was what made my ears perk up this morning. I really don't know about the rest of the album, but if it's anything like "Only Trees", then it's worth hearing.

04 May, 2008

A self-described "unicorn fart"

That title, in all of its wacky glory, basically sums up Sia Furler. She is a unicorn fart, something both beautiful and slightly surreal, and at the same time as completely ordinary as a bodily function. She seems like the kind of girl I could chill with. Our fun would be goofy - I don't really see her smashing out the heavy stuff - but it would be fun as well, real fun.

Those music-lovers out there probably know Sia best for her serious (and seriously cold) song "Breathe Me" which was included in Six Feet Under. I wasn't really a fan of Miss Furler at that time; I'd had enough of the pop/rock/folk songstresses who never really got past the sharp pain of that original breakup (or the equally sharp pain of the original fall that leads to the breakup). Guys suck; my life is so awful; I loved you so much and now it's over; save me from myself; yadda yadda; blah blah blah. Bottom line: Unless the music is amazing, I really don't want to hear about mundane relationship issues or personal issues at all, in song form. I was kind of turned off by "Breathe Me", and subsequently I basically ignored the hype surrounding Colour the Small One and Sia's latest release Some People Have Real Problems.

That was until I heard a new song on WERS. It was amusing, bouncy, and strong, and it was a far cry from anything depressing, even though the subject matter was fairly heavy. "The Girl That You Lost to Cocaine" is (I suppose) what could be called a new hit from Sia, and it's really an amazing song. It woke me up out of a deep sleep at about 3:00 in the morning (it's funny how I hear the best music at 3:00 in the morning) and it left me wanting more. I've now listened to quite a bit of Some People Have Real Problems, and I'm really enjoying the music. Highlights are "Electric Bird", "Playground", "Little Black Sandals", "Buttons", and "Death By Chocolate". I cannot say that there is a bad song on the album, although there are definitely songs that I enjoy more than others. What I really enjoy, overall, is the levity that Sia brings to this most recent project. This girl is not taking herself too seriously, even when she's singing of serious things, and this makes the album ten times more fun than Colour the Small One.

On that note, I'll give you a little taste of Sia Furler (the unicorn fart), and a little taste of "The Girl You Lost to Cocaine. It's all good.

"Hey (Live and Acoustic)" - the Pixies ( + a little acapella to make your day)

Fast forward to about 6:30, and you'll hear an acapella version of "Hey".

"Slipping Under the Radar" - Tobias Froberg

03 May, 2008

In which I delineate the merits of "time-wasting" in the furthering of knowledge and creativity

Procrastination is the key to creativity, or at least a key to creativity. This is a statement that I believe wholeheartedly. I have a couple of reasons for believing in the power of procrastination.

1) It has never failed me in my educational and personal pursuits. Maybe this is because I am the owner of an inherent aversion to deadlines and requirements. I've rarely come across a list of requirements that I found completely "pointed" (to use a word coined by my amazing ex-teacher of biology. When I went to speak to him about my issues with the school system - mainly my frustration with the piles of homework and schoolwork that taught me very little about the various subjects - he said: "You're right, a lot of this work is completely pointless. But most people need to begin with a broad foundation of material, and then work through their lives, making their education more pointed. Maybe you've already done this." Tangential, but important nonetheless.) Lists creep me out, and time is a construct that I wish I could do without. Procrastination then, becomes the keystone of my plan for dealing with life's requirements. I'll read and write entire volumes of my own choosing, before I waste a minute on something required by someone else; and yet, it only seems to add to my ability and eventual creativity when I do get around to that paper, and this stockpile of imagination makes my mind prime for an hour or two of dry textbook reading. It's all about balance, and quality of life.

2) My theory is that when you allow part of your mind to relax, while concentrating on the basics of something else, you open yourself up to great ideas. For example, when do you have some of your best ideas (especially when you're stressed out)? For me, it's the shower. It's a place that requires some of my attention - at the very least physical, so that I don't scald myself or put conditioner in my eyes - but it also relaxes my body to the point where I can really think and digest material. Often, listening to music will achieve the same ends. I can put on John Mayer or the Grateful Dead and smash out a paper. At the same time, there are some types of music that are not conducive to work completion. Classical music in particular, will often consume my entire mind to the point where I cannot concentrate on anything else. It's a holistic cerebral experience, and the layers of sound keep me from thinking about anything else.

Still unconvinced? Well, I wasn't expecting to convert everyone. However, the people who are already procrastinators may take some comfort in my theory.

Flirtation Device

ATMOSPHERE is a hip-hop duo dropping beats and rhymes from the Twin Cities. For over ten years Slug and Ant have been making music that's rhythmically, melodically, and intellectually pleasing. Probably best known for the smashing album You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, the duo just dropped their most recent full-length - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold - in April. I am listening to neither album right now, but instead I've decided to invest my ears in the latest Sad Clown, Bad Spring #12 extended play. Comprised of five amazing tracks, the extended play is just an appetizer for a listener new to ATMOSPHERE, and a delicious dessert for longtime fans.

"Less One" is the first song, and it starts with a bumping computerized bass effect that reverbs against some heavy brass. The backing track reminds me of a car horn in the rain, and Slug follows the line with his soft but strong vocals. The storytelling is hypnotizing, as Slug narrates the story of conflict between a cop and the driver he pulls over. He's a skilled writer, and an attentive listener can imagine the entire scenario, putting faces to personalities and living inside the story for a good 3:44.

"Good Daddy" is a gorgeous story of the connection between a father and baby, that pops with jazzy horn floating behind the rhythm. It is the consideration applied to the smallest details of this song that make it so beautiful. For example, there's a line about the father never knowing any lullabies, and instead singing Stevie Wonder.

"Carry Me Home" is steady and has elements of blues, gospel, and soul music. The sentiment is a careful combination of human frustration, resignation, and regret. It is another story about hard times, but most of all it revolves around the people who fail because you succeed, the people who succeed because you fail, and that overwhelming feeling of exhaustion from all of the highs and lows that makes you crave home.

"Happymess" is the only song that I did not particularly enjoy on the first listen. Slug's voice sounded grating, and his tone somewhat angry and inappropriate. On second listen, I started to find the groove and the excitement and thankfulness. Excitement at finding a woman who will love him unequivocally; and thankfulness that she is patient and forgiving even when he fucks up big time.

"Not Another Day" is my favorite song on the extended play, and I found a live video (which I've posted below) that will tell you everything you need to know about this song. Let me just write that in one extended play, ATMOSPHERE has created more excellent songs than most bands will create in their entire careers. Hip-Hop isn't dead, it's alive and it's really coming into its own as a multifaceted genre. ATMOSPHERE is pushing the genre along, one song at a time.

"Tell Him That Justice Is Coming!"

That line (which is not incredibly funny on its own, but very very funny when paired with the reply "Okay, we'll tell him Justin is coming") is from the movie Eagle vs. Shark. The tag for this movie is "love is awkward", and those three words easily sum up the theme of the film, which is like the ugly child of Napolean Dynamite and Flight of the Conchords. In fact, half of the Conchords plays a major role in Eagle vs. Shark (the Eagle for anyone who cares).

The soundtrack album to Eagle vs. Shark is greatly comprised of lines from the film, with some song filling by The Phoenix Foundation, Luke Buda, Age Pryor and the Marvelous Medicine, The Reduction Agents, and one song each from M. Ward and the Stone Roses. The sounds are supremely chill, and - in fact - one after another they create a mood that would not be out of place on a "declaring my undying love" playlist. To be blunt, they're seriously romantic songs paired most uncomfortably with seriously unromantic situations. Sometimes this effect is cringe-worthy, like the refrain from "The Pool" by The Reduction Agents: "Perhaps you intend to kiss" repeated while my brain forces me to relive that first most awful kiss of the Eagle and the Shark. Oh god, that is painful! Sometimes the effect is more cute, like "This Is the One" by the Stones Roses playing as I remember that much more cute (and only slightly less awkward) situation where Jarrod (Eagle) and Lily (Shark) are sitting together and talking. There's a line from Lily that always makes me smile because it highlights the redemptive power of even the most awkward love:

"I have two things to say. 1) I'm leaving tomorrow. 2) That could change."

With that I'll need to finish my post, but just know that the movie is worth watching (because it's uncomfortably true) and the music can be heartbreaking, or it can be heartmending. It all depends on how you listen.

01 May, 2008

"All That We Needed" - Plain White T's

There is no video (that I could find), so if I were you, I would just scroll and read the lyrics. It's a sunshiney day song, and I love the sentiment. Happy May!

If you could come clean about everything
It would be easy for me
To be sorry
If you could see all the possiblities
We might not still be standing where we started

Oh no
Don't let me go for this
Don't let me go for this

I might be a fool, you might be one too
Maybe we're all that we needed
Two wrongs don't make a right
But I don't care tonight
Maybe we're all that we needed

You could say we were just a big mistake
I think it's worth making
And worth repeating
I would say good things come to those who wait
I would say anything if you'd believe it

Oh no
Don't let me go for this
Don't let me go for this

I might be a fool, you might be one too
Maybe we're all that we needed
Two wrongs don't make a right
But I don't care tonight
Maybe we're all that we needed

Maybe we're perfectly not meant to be
Or more alike than we're willing to see
Maybe we're not meant to not disagree
Maybe we're crazy baby

If you could come clean about everything
It would be easy for me
To be sorry
If you could see all the possiblities
We might not still be standing where we started

Oh no
Don't let me go for this
Don't let me go for this

I might be a fool, you might be one too
Maybe we're all that we needed
Two wrongs don't make a right
But I don't care tonight
Maybe we're all that we needed

I don't care tonight
Maybe we're all that we needed

I don't care tonight
Maybe we're all that we needed